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Calm Down: House Republicans Didn’t Just Challenge President Obama on Federal LGBT Discrimination

President Barack Obama
The White House

It looks like the House just said religious companies with federal contracts can fire LGBT employees. They already could.

The House of Representatives passed a national defense bill into law that seemingly challenges an executive order by President Barack Obama preventing LGBT discrimination in public contracts.


On Wednesday, the House passed the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act by a vote of 277-147. The bill the representatives passed includes an amendment that provides exemptions from the Civil Rights Act for religious corporations, associations, or societies receiving federal government contracts.

Most LGBT allies, advocates, and media saw the amended bill as an attack on the president's executive order in 2014 protecting sexual orientation and gender identity in government contracts.

Democrats chanted "Shame!" across the aisle as Republicans cheered their victory. But both the law and the executive order share the same "religious freedom" language that both sides were debating.

Compare the bill's exemption and the president's order below.

National Defense Authorization Act of 2017Obama's Executive Order
Any branch or agency of the Federal Government shall, with respect to any religious corporation, religious association, religious educational institution, or religious society that is a recipient of or offeror for a Federal Government contract, subcontract, grant, purchase order, or cooperative agreement, provide protections and exemptions consistent with sections 702(a) and 703(e)(2) of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (42 U.S.C. 2000e-1(a) and 42 U.S.C. 2000e-2(e)(2)) and section 103(d) of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (42 U.S.C. 12113(d)).Section 202 of this Order shall not apply to a Government contractor or subcontractor that is a religious corporation, association, educational institution, or society, with respect to the employment of individuals of a particular religion to perform work connected with the carrying on by such corporation, association, educational institution, or society of its activities. Such contractors and subcontractors are not exempted or excused from complying with the other requirements contained in this Order.

So no, sh*t did not just get ugly at the House. Republicans did not just undo Obama's executive order.

The House did the same thing it's been doing since 2012--pass redundant legislation and turn it into a political smear match.

Currently, religious groups can claim exemption from anti-discrimination law in titles VII and IX of the Civil Rights Act if the law runs counter to deeply held religious beliefs. This is why, for example, a job at a Baptist day care may ask you to sign a statement of faith before hiring you, or a Catholic seminary school can deny admission to a woman.

While Obama's order adds sexual orientation and gender identity protections, he kept the same language from the civil rights movement protecting religion--when President Lyndon B. Johnson first drafted the order and Obama later amended.

What you won't see talked about is the amendment to change the discharge status of gay and lesbian soldiers kicked out of the military under "don't ask, don't tell." The text was submitted, but there's no sign of it in the final bill. The amendment could have made it easier for thousands of former service men and women to rewrite their military records. But where's the political fun in that.

30 Years of Out100Out / Advocate Magazine - Jonathan Groff and Wayne Brady

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Michael Lambert