Yesterday, on the one-month anniversary of the Orlando shooting that took the lives of 49 LGBTQ persons, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee held a hearing on H.R. 2802, The First Amendment Defense Act (FADA), legislation that would provide a broad license to discriminate against the LGBTQ community. Despite numerous requests from the LGBTQ community to postpone the hearing, Chairman Jason Chaffetz refused. This insensitivity was referenced multiple times throughout the hearings by several minority members of the committee, including the ranking minority member, Representative Elijah Cummings, who chastised the committee for their decision to hold the hearing on this day.
Throughout the hearing, members of the committee decried the Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges and some went so far as to give lengthy speeches about their own religious beliefs opposing same-sex marriage.
In their opening statements, Senator Mike Lee and Representative Raul Labrador, lead co-sponsors of the bill, attempted to frame the FADA as “narrow” legislation that simply ensures religious liberties will be respected without overriding any federal or state civil rights acts.
Yet, several witnesses and members of the committee argued that FADA would provide a license to discriminate against LGBTQ persons. Barney Frank, former Congressman from Massachusetts, argued that FADA has little to do with the protection of religious beliefs, but serves only to single out same-sex marriage for explicit treatment as a threat to religious liberty. Katherine Franke, a professor at Columbia Law School, stated, “FADA is a solution in search of a problem,” because of the robust protections that religious liberty already enjoys under the federal Constitution’s First Amendment, the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), State Constitutions, and state RFRA’s.
The most compelling witness for FADA was former Atlanta Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran, who was fired for expressing his religious beliefs that marriage is between one man and one woman. Cochran was never found to have discriminated against anyone in his professional capacity. However, as multiple members of the panel testified in response to questioning, FADA would not have prevented Cochran’s firing.
The only thing FADA would do is allow entities to take federal money, paid in part by the taxes of LGBTQ individuals, and then deny those benefits, programs, or services to LGBTQ people and same-sex couples.
The hearing was just the first step on the road to passage of federal legislation that will provide a license to discriminate against LGBTQ people. This legislation would be a gigantic step backwards in the progress we’ve made toward full lived and legal equality for LGBTQ people. We must do everything we can to prevent passage of this dangerous legislation.
Amanda Bolan is a Summer Law Fellow with Family Equality Council. She is a rising 2L at The George Washington University Law School.