“License to Discriminate” Bill Gains Momentum in Congress

By Megan Clayton • July 15, 2015 • 10:24 pm

Two days ago we warned you about a harmful bill introduced in congress. The so-called “First Amendment Defense Act” is a misleadingly named bill that could allow discrimination against LGBT people and our families, and unfortunately it has quickly gained supporters in congress.

With members of the House Republican leadership signing-on to the bill, reports say a committee vote on the measure could come as soon as next week. Already the bill has garnered 115 co-sponsors, which means this harmful legislation is being taken seriously.


That’s a problem because what this broadly written bill actually does is create a license to discriminate against LGBT people; it doesn’t do a single thing to strengthen the fundamental American value of freedom of speech. Our nation’s Constitution, and countless laws already on the books, permanently protect First Amendment Rights in America, and no one is trying to change that.

So, what would this law really do, then? As we laid out earlier this week, this bill could have sweeping and negative impacts, including:

Rolling Back Existing Federal Protections
The bill would leave unenforceable much of President Obama’s amendment of Executive Order 11246 – an amendment that extended nondiscrimination protections for LGBT employees of federal contractors. The executive order, which established the LGBT-inclusive amendment in July 2014, is estimated by The Williams Institute to protect an additional 16.5 million employees from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

Employment Discrimination Against Hardworking Americans
Under the proposed bill, if a government contractor were to deny employment or terminate someone’s employment based on their marriage to a partner of the same sex, the federal government could take no action.

Further, the Senate sponsor of the bill, Sen. Lee said in an interview with NPR that, “a religious institution, whether an educational institution or otherwise,” should have the right to refuse service.

The freedom of religion is protected in the U.S. Constitution. But that freedom does not give any of us the right to harm or discriminate against others – and overwhelmingly, people of faith understand that.

Leaving the Distribution of Martial Protections and Benefits to the Discretion of Individuals and Companies
Under the proposed bill, the federal government would be powerless to require a company to provide an employee leave to care for a sick same-sex spouse under the Family & Medical Leave Act, even if the employee is legally married.

Additionally, federal government employees may refuse to process or otherwise handle a claim, benefit, or service to which a married same-sex couples is entitled under federal law – even though the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that the couple is fully entitled to marriage and all of the protections associated with marriage.

Essentially, the bill is working to give individuals and companies cover so that they don’t have to follow the law and respect married same-sex couples – and in the process, it strips the federal government and these couples from any legal recourse.

Discrimination Against Unmarried Women:
The bill would also bar the federal government from denying education funds to a school that fires a teacher it suspects of having a premarital sexual relationship with her longtime boyfriend.

And these are only the issues that have been identified so far. In the same interview mentioned above, Sen. Lee acknowledged that he wasn’t sure whether the law could be used to prevent the sale of a home to a same-sex couple, for example. The potential negative impacts keep piling up. This bill doesn’t solve any problems, but it could create countless legal issues.

Harmful and Out of Touch
This bill wouldn’t help a single American, and it flies in the face of the bipartisan majority of Americans who believe we should be doing more to prevent discrimination against LGBT people, not making it easier.

As our campaign manager, Matt McTighe, said in a recent statement on this bill: “One of the biggest lessons from Indiana is that the American people, and the businesses of all sizes that drive our economies, don’t support these types of misleading bills. They see legislation like this for what it truly is – a blatant attempt to make life harder for those already vulnerable to discrimination. Freedom for All Americans is committed to continuing the work of advancing bills that build up all Americans rather than tear us down.”

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