LGBTQ Equality

As government shutdown looms, anti-LGBTQ+ language in spending bills part of Congressional debate

  Mary Cugini

Congress is in disarray. Every year, Congress must pass 12 different spending bills by October 1 in order to fund all the parts of the government. But you may have seen that Congress hasn’t even passed a single spending bill and it’s already Sept. 25. That means we’re on the verge of a government shutdown.

One of the problems is that the Republicans in the House of Representatives have added countless harmful provisions, including at least a dozen aimed at the LGBTQ+ community, to the spending bills. Here is a look at two of those anti-LGBTQ+ provisions: 

First Amendment Defense Act language would license discrimination

Eleven of the 12 House spending bills include a “license to discriminate” provision that is modeled on something called the First Amendment Defense Act (FADA). FADA was first introduced in response to the Supreme Court decision, Obergefell v. Hodges, in which the court held that states must recognize the marriages of same-sex couples. FADA was designed to allow anyone who holds a religious belief that marriage is “between one man and one woman” to violate laws that they claim conflict with their belief. 

In other words, FADAs misuse religious freedom to cause harm and allow discrimination. Some examples of how this could be applied include:

  • A social worker, working under a contract with the District of Columbia, could refuse to work with a same-sex couple who want to be foster parents. 
  • An employee of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services could refuse to consider an asylum application from a same-sex couple.
  • A benefits specialist could refuse to file paperwork for spousal benefits for a newly married same-sex couple.

FADAs turn the marriages of same-sex couples into second-tier marriages with lesser protection due to the whim of someone else’s religious beliefs.

Proposal would force public colleges to permit student groups to discriminate

A different provision in the Labor-Health and Human Services Appropriations bill allows discrimination by religious student groups at public colleges and universities. Oftentimes, to ensure all students can participate, colleges and universities have nondiscrimination policies, known as “all-comers” policies, that require officially recognized student groups to allow any student to join, participate in, and seek leadership in those groups.

These all-comers policies are important, because they prevent student groups from discriminating, including on the basis of religion, sexual orientation, or gender identity. But the bill provision would prohibit public colleges and universities from enforcing all-comers policies and instead create a special exemption for religious clubs to discriminate and impose a religious test on who can join and lead the group. 

In addition, because funding for student groups often comes from mandatory student activity fees, all-comers policies also ensure that universities don’t subsidize discrimination and guarantee that students aren’t forced to fund a group that would reject them as members.

Religious freedom does not include a right to use religion to discriminate—especially not while using the fees paid by the very students who are being excluded. 

Congress should leave these harmful provisions behind. Instead of pursuing discrimination, lawmakers should be working on funding the government, ensuring all American people can live free from discrimination, and moving the country forward toward its ideals of freedom without favor and equality without exception.

Congress needs to hear from you!

Urge your legislators to co-sponsor the Do No Harm Act today.

The Do No Harm Act will help ensure that our laws are a shield to protect religious freedom and not used as a sword to harm others by undermining civil rights laws and denying access to health care.

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