Exactly one month after the deadliest gun massacre in recent U.S. history at a gay bar in Orlando, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee held a hearing on Tuesday on a bill that would give a license to discriminate against gay individuals under the guise of freedom of religion.
The bill, the First Amendment Defense Act (FADA), was introduced by Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) and Rep. Raul Labrador (R-ID) last year, and would provide special legal protections to individuals who oppose same-sex marriage and those who oppose extramarital sex.
Under the bill, the government cannot deny tax subsidies, grants, or benefits to individuals or religious organizations who harbor anti-LGBT views. While the bill’s authors and supporters on the panel attempted to frame the bill as a logical extension of the the First Amendment’s freedom of religion clause and claimed it was “not a discriminatory bill,” opponents countered that it would merely sanction taxpayer funded discrimination.
In addition to Lee and Labrador, who left without answering questions, the witnesses included three Republican majority witnesses (anti-gay former Atlanta Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran, Alliance Defending Freedom attorney Kristen Waggoner, and Witherspoon Institute scholar Matthew Franck) and three Democratic minority witnesses (former Rep. Barney Frank, Columbia Law Professor Katherine Franke, and successful marriage equality plaintiff Jim Obergefell).
At the hearing, the ranking Democrat on the committee Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland asked Franke a series of questions about whether the bill would preclude federal enforcement of civil rights laws and family leave protections to employees in same-sex relationships. After she indicated that it did, Cummings asked the full panel of witnesses to raise their hands if they believe it is acceptable for businesses to discriminate against people because of their race, gender, disability, or because they are in a same-sex relationship. None of the witnesses raised their hands, including the ones in favor of FADA.
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Cummings concluded by asking Franke whether the bill would make it legal for Fortune 500 companies to fire employees in a same-sex relationship or deny them health benefits without any penalty. Franke said the bill allows a company with the religious convictions that marriage should be between a man and a women to “take steps in their employment policies to advance those views. In that case, employees would be unable to bring any sort of lawsuit against those companies in federal court or using federal laws.”