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Congress Debates Anti-LGBT Bill One Month After Orlando Tragedy

U.S. Capitol

Like most “religious freedom” bills, the First Amendment Defense Act would allow individuals and business to discriminate against those who believe in marriage equality.

Congress will hold a hearing on sweeping anti-LGBT legislation exactly one month after the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando that killed 49 queer people and allies.

The Republican-led House will hear debate Tuesday on the First Amendment Defense Act (FADA) before the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. The bill is a federal clone of many state "religious freedom" laws that allow individuals and businesses to refuse service if a customer violates their belief that marriage is between a man and a woman.

"The Orlando tragedy on June 12 was a time of heartbreak for millions around the world and the worst attack on the LGBT community in our nation's history," said Jim Obergefell, who will testify at the hearing. "Today, exactly one month after this horrifying event, this hearing is deeply hurtful to a still-grieving LGBT community."

While the 171 FADA co-sponsors maintain the bill does not target LGBTs, the bill would protect any individual or business from losing tax exemptions, federal contracts, or federal grants if they have "a 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."

"It says a lot about the party of Donald Trump and Paul Ryan that they're willing to hold a hearing on this horrible legislation to fund discrimination, but refuse to hold hearings on important legislation like the Equality Act," Rep. Sean Maloney, D-N.Y., told Out.

Introduced by Rep. David Cicilline, the Equality Act would add protections for sexual orientation and gender identity to the federal Civil Rights Act. The bill has yet to advance to a committee hearing, despite persistent calls from House Democrats.

Similar religious freedom bills have proliferated among conservative states--only to be thrown down by district courts. Mississippi, which was noted to have the harshest of recent religious freedom laws, saw that same law struck down after challenged in federal court. With such losses at the state level, a federal bill looks unlikely to survive long. But that won't stop conservatives from trying.

"It's wrong and it's discrimination--plain and simple," Maloney said. "It is my hope that FADA would not pass even if it made it to the full floor of the House. But I wouldn't put it past them to do everything they can to enshrine discrimination in federal law."

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