Members of Congress Introduce Dangerous Legislation Billed as Protecting Religious Freedom

Last Thursday, a group of Members of Congress led by Idaho Republican Raul Labrador introduced the 'Marriage and Religious Freedom Act,' which Rep. Labrador claims will 'protect freedom of conscience for those who believe marriage is the union of one man and one woman.' 

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In reality, this legislation permits federal workers, as well as recipients of federal grants and contracts, to refuse to serve married same-sex couples based on their personal religious beliefs about marriage.  It also gives anyone the right to sue the federal government for monetary damages if he or she believes the federal government has discriminated against them based on their religious convictions regarding marriage for same-sex couples.

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“Every American understands the importance of protecting the rights of people of faith to hold and express their beliefs, including about the equality of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people,” said Human Rights Campaign (HRC) Legislative Director Allison Herwitt.  “But our Constitution and laws already strongly safeguard that liberty.  The purpose of the legislation introduced today is simply to let federal employees, contractors and grantees refuse to do their jobs or fulfill the terms of their taxpayer-funded contracts because they have a particular religious view about certain lawfully-married couples – and then to sue the federal government for damages if they don’t get their way.”

For example, if passed, the Marriage and Religious Freedom Act would permit a federal worker processing tax returns, approving visa applications or reviewing Social Security applications to walk away from their responsibilities whenever a same-sex couple’s paperwork appeared on his or her desk.  It would also allow a federally-funded homeless shelter or substance abuse treatment program to turn away LGBT people.  Despite the cosponsors claims, there is no evidence that federal programs have or would discriminate against individuals because of their religious beliefs about marriage.  Protections against discrimination based on religious belief are explicitly and robustly provided under the First Amendment and federal nondiscrimination statutes.

This legislation is also out of step with what the American people believe about religious liberty and marriage equality.  According to a poll conducted this summer by HRC and Third Way, seven out of ten Americans believe that a government official should have to follow the law and treat all people fairly, including married same-sex couples.

Photo By John P Salvatore [CC0 or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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