Donald Trump has signaled that he plans to repeal federal protections for LGBT workers while in office, according to U.S. Rep. Steve Russell.
The Republican lawmaker was the man behind the Russell Amendment, a piece of legislation that would have allowed religious organizations an exemption from President Barack Obama’s 2014 executive order prohibiting companies with federal contracts from discrminating against employees due to their sexual orientation or gender identity. That amendment, which was attached to the National Defense Authorization Act, a defense spending bill, was tabled last week.
Russell told BuzzFeed News that the Trump administration has offered him “very positive signals” that the White House will take the matter into its own hands.
“These issues will be resolved, and we have gotten some very good assurances moving forward,” Russell said, positing that the president-elect would take executive action on the issue in order to bypass congressional Democrats. “I am certainly encouraged by the signs that I am getting from the administration that is inbound.”
Russell claims that the issue with the Obama protections is that they offer little clarity, especially when it comes to faith-based organizations that work with the federal government. The Russell Amendment would have resolved that crisis by safeguarding groups based on “religious liberty,” similar to bills that were recently passed — and later amended or repealed — in states like Mississippi and Indiana. The latter was signed into law by Mike Pence, Trump’s vice president; Pence and legislators agreed to amend it after public outcry.
“The vagueness was created by the executive branch, so the executive branch [under Trump] could un-create the vagueness,” Russell told BuzzFeed News. “You reverse it by clarifying a bad executive order with a good one.”
LGBT civil rights organizations have warned that the Russell Amendment — and other bills like it — would have the opposite effect, defining too broadly which groups can in good faith claim religious affiliation. Any organization that wishes to terminate LGBT workers, many have warned, could be safeguarded under a faith-based exemption.
Although Russell refused “to talk strategy or predispose what the executive branch may do,” Trump has already stated that the Obama orders would be on the chopping block. In an outline of the president-elect’s 100 days in office published October 22, Trump stated that he will “cancel every unconstitutional executive action, memorandum and order issued by President Obama” on his first day in office.
In truth, this may have been the only way forward for the Russell Amendment, which would have likely faced a veto from President Obama. Additionally, 42 U.S. senators came out in opposition to the legislation, enough to block it.
Following the amendment’s defeat, Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal, who led the charge against the bill in the Senate, said this is just the beginning.
“Eliminating this dangerous provision from the final bill is a victory,” he said in a press release, “but let us be clear: the fight against bigotry, intolerance, and discrimination does not end with the Russell Amendment. ... Our government should have no part in funding discrimination — not now, not tomorrow, and not next year.”
“In the aftermath of this presidential election, we must be even more vigilant in our efforts to protect the fundamental right of all Americans to equal protection under the law,” Blumenthal added.
Trump has yet to comment on Russell’s claims about the president-elect’s plans in the White House.