Even with a majority of Americans supporting the Supreme Court's decision to establish legal marriage equality, there's still a mad dash to "protect" individuals who oppose gay marriage on religious grounds. Yet the most recent effort to accomplish this, the First Amendment Defense Act, could extend beyond marriage and even allow employers to fire single mothers.
America "was founded on a proud tradition of religious freedom and tolerance," Utah Republican Sen. Mike Lee, who introduced the act, told NPR in an interview aired July 9. Institutions that subscribe to religious beliefs that reject same-sex marriage should therefore be protected against "government retaliation" they may face should they choose to fire LGBT employees, such as being denied federal tax exemptions, contracts or licenses. "That's what this bill is aimed at prohibiting," he said in the interview.
But because the language of the bill is so broad, this protection of religious institutions against "retaliation" could come at a cost to many others. As American Civil Liberties Union legislative representative Ian Thompson told the Huffington Post, the bill "clearly encompasses discrimination against single mothers" and could even be applied to any individual whose marriage-related choices could be considered offensive to a given faith — including divorce and remarriage. The bill could also bar LGBT individuals from homeless shelters or drug programs that benefit from federal grants and serve a major blow to anti-discrimination protections for LGBT federal contractors, Thompson added.
While some representatives, like Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho), denied to the Huffington Post that the bill could be applied this way, other representatives skirted the issue, including Rep. Bill Flores (R-Texas) who, when questioned about the legislation, told the Huffington Post that it "protects an institution based on its sincerely held religious beliefs from persecution," and Lee, who told NPR that institutions "ought to be protected in their religious freedom."
But House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) was more direct. "The Supreme Court's decision on marriage raises a lot of other questions, and a number of members have concerns about the issues it raises," he said on Thursday, according to the Huffington Post. "No decision has been made on how best to address these."
As the bill begins to gain traction, it's important that a clear decision is made — hopefully one that truly does not prioritize the protection of some beliefs over the basic rights and wellbeing of others.