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Congress Should Ignore the Latest Attempt to Write Discrimination Into Law

President Obama gives remarks around the signing of EOs 11478 and 11246.
President Obama gives remarks around the signing of EOs 11478 and 11246.
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April 27, 2016

It’s been a year of amazing fights for LGBT equality: We’ve won the freedom to marry in all 50 states, challenged discriminatory laws aimed to deny services to transgender Americans, and won court cases that would sanction religious-based discrimination against same-sex couples.

The last year hasn’t been without its challenges, though. We’ve seen a lot of different attempts to make discrimination law, even while the majority of Americans support the right of LGBT Americans to live our lives as we are. The latest play is classic Washington: attempting to attach an amendment to an essential bill and hope no one puts up a fuss.

We have intelligence that Rep. Steve Russell (R-Okla.) has quietly signaled that he’ll offer an amendment to the latest National Defense Authorization Act that, if passed, could license taxpayer-funded discrimination by recipients of both federal contracts and grants. Right now, the amendment is worded very vaguely, but potential consequence should stop it dead in its tracks: It could effectively undo President Obama’s 2014 executive order that banned federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

While Obama’s action was historic, it was also needed. Businesses that contract with the federal government employ people in all 50 states and comprise a quarter of the entire workforce. That’s why we needed Obama’s executive order and another reason why it shouldn’t be undermined through congressional gamesmanship.

The bigger picture here is crystal clear. It’s not about process, regulations, or contracting dollars — it’s opponents of LGBT equality attempting to codify discrimination. Anti-LGBT forces are trying to do so by taking lawsuits arguing for the right to discriminate to the Supreme Court; passing discriminatory laws, regardless of the fiscal consequences; and today, thanks to Rep. Russell, trying to enshrine discrimination into the bill authorizing the military’s budget next year.

We’ve taken huge strides in the past year, but we have a long way to go. Most states do not have clear nondiscrimination protections, and LGBT people are regularly denied basic services and every day fear for their future should they be fired just because of who they are. Our Congress should focus on ending discrimination, not codifying it.

Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry said it best earlier this week:

“The NDAA makes a clear statement to friends and adversaries that the United States will have the means to defend itself, and it reassures the men and women who serve our nation that whatever they are asked to do, they will be prepared and supported fully.”

That should include LGBT Americans, too. Rep. Russell’s amendment, however, won’t support LGBT Americans and would, in fact, permit taxpayer-funded discrimination. If he moves forward with it, his colleagues should soundly reject it.

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