GOP’s New Hate Bill Not Hateful Enough for Liberty Counsel

Mat and Anita Staver
Liberty Counsel founder and chairman Mat Staver (left) with his wife and Liberty Counsel president Anita Staver

After months of preaching that the so-called First Amendment Defense Act was the only way to protect the “religious freedom” of those opposed to marriage equality, one of the nation’s leading anti-LGBT organizations has done a complete 180. 

In a press release published Wednesday, Liberty Counsel explained why it abruptly stopped supporting the sweeping federal legislation. As it turns out, the anti-LGBT legal nonprofit that represented antigay Kentucky clerk Kim Davis and a host of other right-wing dissenters wasn’t all that worried about religious freedom. It appears the group was instead primarily concerned with making sure individuals, businesses, and federal contractors could discriminate against LGBT people without “punishment” from the government. 

So after the bill’s lead sponsor in the House, Idaho Rep. Raul Labrador, revealed a change in the language of House Resolution 2802 that would protect people from adverse government action regarding any “religious belief or moral conviction” about marriage, Liberty Counsel balked. While the draft bill posted on Rep. Labrador’s website is dated July 7, the official congressional page for the bill has not been updated since it was introduced June 17. 

“For the first time, the federal government under the proposed FADA will formerly [sic] recognize and condone same-sex marriage on par with the natural marriage,” read Wednesday’s press release. “Liberty Counsel can no longer support FADA unless the proposed amendment is abandoned and FADA returns to its original language of marriage being between one man and one woman.”

Liberty Counsel founder and chairman Mat Staver went on to “urge all members of Congress to reject the proposed amendments to the First Amendment Defense Act that include same-sex marriage,” promising that “pro-family” organizations will not be able to support the legislation unless it singles out same-sex couples for legalized discrimination. The antigay language in FADA is “necessary to protect people of faith,” Staver concluded. 

As gay blogger Joe Jervis notes, Liberty Counsel’s FADA defection comes less than a month after certified anti-LGBT hate group Family Research Council similarly rescinded its support for the legislation. 

During the first congressional hearing on FADA — which took place on the one-month anniversary of the massacre of 49 mostly LGBT and Latino people at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub — Rep. Labrador frequently stated that he had worked with a broad coalition of groups to ensure that his bill protected the rights of “everyone.” 

The initial language of the bill prohibited the federal government from taking any action against a person who acted in accordance with their religious belief or moral conviction that “marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman, or that sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage.” 

But the updated language adds one important clause to the beliefs expressly protected by FADA. Labrador’s amended bill prohibits the federal government from taking “any discriminatory action” against a person who “believes, speaks, or acts in accordance with a sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction” that “marriage is or should be recognized as the union of … two individuals of the opposite sex; or two individuals of the same sex; or extramarital relations are improper.”

By recognizing that some people (indeed, there are entire faith traditions that welcome LGBT people) hold sincere religious convictions in support of marriage equality, FADA’s tone shifts substantially. The bill is still ripe for constitutional challenges and includes ominously vague language about the scope of discriminatory actions that would be protected if it were enacted. But by carving out space to protect those whose moral and religious convictions oblige them to support marriage equality, the amended FADA could actually open the door for pro-LGBT individuals, businesses, and government contractors to deny service to those who oppose same-sex marriage. 

In the same way that FADA in its original form would have barred the government from punishing a business that refused to provide service for a gay couple’s wedding, the amended version would similarly prevent the federal government from punishing a business that only served same-sex couples and those who support marriage equality. 

Arguably, the amended version of FADA is a more balanced, egalitarian effort to “defend” the First Amendment — though whether the foundational document was under attack in the first place remains very much up for debate

And judging by the collective recoil from prominent right-wing organizations with demonstrated anti-LGBT agendas, FADA was never about protecting everyone’s religious and moral convictions. The shrill denunciation of the lead sponsor’s amendment to his own bill suggests that what these groups really wanted all along was to be able to discriminate against LGBT people without repercussions. Crucially, though, it seems those same anti-LGBT forces aren’t as interested in “defending” the First Amendment when it’s being used to bludgeon their beliefs. 

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