By Sunnivie Brydum
Originally published on Advocate.com September 19 2013 5:45 PM ET
Immediately after Idaho Republican Raul Labrador introduced the "Marriage and Religious Freedom Act" in the U.S. House of Representatives, LGBT organizations issued strong, swift, and unequivocal condemnations of the bill.
The legislation seeks to allow federal employees, grant recipients, and government contractors the right to refuse to recognize same-sex marriages if such unions are against their religious beliefs. It also aims to create a legal framework to assist religious people who believe their conscience has been violated in suing the federal government for infringing on their religious liberty.
While Labrador claimed the bill will "protect freedom of conscience for those who believe marriage is the union of one man and one woman," numerous LGBT advocacy groups rejected that explanation outright, noting that the U.S. Constitution already has strong protections for religious liberty.
"Every American understands the importance of protecting the rights of people of faith to hold and express their beliefs, including about the equality of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people," Human Rights Campaign legislative director Allison Herwitt said in a statement. "But our Constitution and laws already strongly safeguard that liberty. The purpose of the legislation introduced today is simply to let federal employees, contractors, and grantees refuse to do their jobs or fulfill the terms of their taxpayer-funded contracts because they have a particular religious view about certain lawfully married couples — and then to sue the federal government for damages if they don’t get their way."
To illustrate the damage that could be caused by such legislation, HRC presented a hypothetical scenario that would become legal if Labrador's bill became law:
"If passed, the Marriage and Religious Freedom Act would permit a federal worker processing tax returns, approving visa applications. or reviewing Social Security applications to walk away from their responsibilities whenever a same-sex couple's paperwork appeared on his or her desk. It would also allow a federally funded homeless shelter or substance abuse treatment program to turn away LGBT people."
The American Civil Liberties Union was also unequivocal with its disapproval. Reiterating that religious liberty is a "fundamental American value," the progressive advocacy organization said that freedom allows Americans to affirm and act upon their personal faith in myriad ways but does not permit discrimination or harm to others. The ACLU also cited the recently gutted federal Defense of Marriage Act, a key portion of which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional in June. The court struct down the portion of that law, on the books for 17 years, that prohibited federal agencies from recognizing for benefits any couple that was not one man and one woman, even if a same-sex couple was legally married in the state where they lived.
"The proponents of this legislation seek to reincarnate DOMA and, in doing so, perpetuate discrimination against lawfully married same-sex couples and their children," said Ian Thompson, a legislative representative for the ACLU. "Gay and lesbian couples raise children, vote, and pay taxes just the same as everyone else, but this legislation would allow these couples to be treated differently based on who they are, giving a free pass to federal workers, recipients of taxpayer-funded grants and contracts, and others to discriminate against lawfully married couples.”
The Washington, D.C.-based Interfaith Alliance also condemned the proposed legislation.
"The Marriage and Religious Freedom Act peddles the false notion that religious liberty and marriage equality are at odds, which is patently untrue," said Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy, president of Interfaith Alliance. "The stated purpose of this bill is to prevent the adverse treatment of anyone because of his or her views on marriage. Yet this bill would result in the adverse treatment of same-gender couples who have made a lifetime commitment to the person they love through marriage. We must see this bill for what it truly is — discrimination against LGBT Americans and the further misappropriation of religious liberty to achieve that discrimination.:
Gaddy drove the point home with a poignant reminder about the stringent protections already in place for religious institutions and clergy members to refuse to serve or recognize same-sex marriages.
"Marriage equality does not put houses of worship and clergy at risk," said Gaddy in the statement. "Our government cannot — and does not — require clergy to solemnize unions with which they do not agree. Religion and religious freedom should never be used to discriminate, and neither should tax dollars."