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House Passes Defense Bill Allowing Discrimination Against LGBT Workers

Rep. Steve Russell

The U.S. House of Representatives passed a billion defense bill on Wednesday which allows government contractors to discriminate against LGBT workers on religious grounds, overturning an executive order issued by President Obama in 2014 that protects LGBT people from discrimination in the workplace.

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer stated that he voted against the defense bill because it allows discrimination against LGBT Americans and women, who would not be required to register for selective service under the bill. "We shouldn’t allow taxpayer-funded contractors to dismiss employees simply because of sexual orientation or gender identity, and we shouldn’t denigrate the service and contributions women make to our national defense," said the Democratic congressman in a statement. 

The amendment, introduced by Rep. Steve Russell in April, could be compared to the "religious freedom" laws that caused outrage in Indiana, Arizona, Georgia and elsewhere. In this case, it would limit the federal government to protecting only those groups now named in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the American with Disabilities act, reports the Washington Blade. Neither of those laws protect LGBT people from discrimination, therefore Russell's amendment would allow religious organizations doing business with the U.S. government to fire or punish any employee based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.

The LGBT advocacy group Human Rights Campaign condemned the legislation, calling it "taxpayer funded discrimination."

"The anti-LGBT provision, offered as an amendment by Rep. Steve Russell in the House Armed Services Committee, would allow, under the guise of religious liberty, sweeping anti-LGBT discrimination in all federal agencies, not just the Department of Defense," stated the HRC on its website. "The provision jeopardizes President Obama’s executive order prohibiting LGBT discrimination in federal contracting, and could have far-reaching consequences, potentially even undermining existing federal nondiscrimination provisions protecting workers against discrimination on the basis of race, religion, sex, pregnancy, sexual orientation, gender identity, and more."

However, in order for the bill to become law it needs to be approved by the Senate and then signed by President Obama. On Monday, the Obama administration issued a 17-page document explaining the many reasons the president would veto the bill in its current state.

Among a laundry list of reasons, the administration said the bill makes it "easier to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation," and that has "nothing to do with national defense."

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