Congress has finalized the defense spending bill for 2017, a budget that allows for $618.7 billion in military spending, among other things. Just as remarkable as that number is a controversial amendment, which would have discriminated against LGBTQ people, being stripped from the bill.
The Russell Amendment, named for Republican Rep. Steve Russell, coated LGBTQ discrimination under “religious liberty.” It would have prohibited federal contractors or recipients of a federal grant from being discriminated against for their religion, which would in turn have allowed these religiously affiliated organizations to use their religion as a reason for discrimination. In October, NBC reported that “the amendment was added to the House version of the NDAA in the middle of the night and passed through the House without a hearing.”
A group of 42 senators wrote a letter in support of removing the amendment, saying it would “vastly expand religious exemptions under the Civil Rights Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act to allow religiously affiliated organizations receiving federal funds to engage in discriminatory hiring practices,” and that these contractors could use taxpayer dollars to discriminate against people based on their gender identity or sexual orientation, using religion as an excuse.
Organizations like the ACLU, NARAL Pro-Choice America, Planned Parenthood Action Fund, and the Center for American Progress Fund opposed the amendment. “Defeating the Russell Amendment is just one of many upcoming fights to protect the rights of LGBTQ people,” said organization CREDO in a press release. “Homophobic right-wing Republicans, including Trump and Pence, are going to keep trying to find ways to push their bigotry into action. But we know that together we can stand up to their hate.”
The ACLU cites examples of religious liberty laws being used to discriminate against others, such as a religiously affiliated business firing a woman for becoming pregnant without being married, or refusing to hire gay people or members of religious minorities. This sort of discrimination is also not new—in the 1960s, many cited religion as a justification for racial segregation.