As the Senate Judiciary Committee prepares to vote on the nomination of Jeff Sessions to be attorney general of the United States, it is telling that Sen. Sessions continues to stand by his support for the most sweeping anti-LGBT bill in Congress.
In response to a written question from Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) regarding his support for the so-called “First Amendment Defense Act,” or FADA, Sen. Sessions flatly states that he rejects characterizations of the bill — including by the ACLU — as being “deceptively named.” Since same-sex couples won the freedom to marry nationwide in 2015, opponents — including those pushing FADA — have argued that the legislation is necessary to protect clergy or houses of worship from being forced to marry gay and lesbian couples. The First Amendment already, quite clearly, protects the rights of clergy and churches to decide which unions to solemnize within their faith traditions. In fact, since the founding of our country, no church has been forced to marry any couple in violation of its religious doctrine, something that has not changed since the arrival of marriage equality.
Sen. Sessions specifically cites concerns about a private university or college potentially losing tax-exempt status if it is opposed to marriage equality. However, he is unable to point to a single example of a school being threatened with such an action, let alone a case where a tax-exempt status was revoked.
Perhaps the most galling aspect of Sen. Sessions’ response was how he turns the definition of discrimination on its head. He argues that FADA is necessary to “prohibit the federal government from taking discriminatory actions.” What Sen. Sessions calls “discriminatory actions” are in fact longstanding federal civil rights protections. FADA, for example, would significantly undermine the ability of federal agencies tasked with enforcing our nation’s civil rights laws, such as the EEOC, to protect LGBT people and women from discrimination in education, employment, or housing.
The kind of sweeping, taxpayer-funded discrimination that FADA would sanction flies in the face of the Supreme Court’s landmark marriage-equality ruling. Sen. Sessions can try all he wants to mask what the true intent of FADA is, but the ACLU will continue to speak out in strong opposition to this legislative attack on the LGBT community.