Standoff Brewing Over LGBT Provision in Defense Bill

Some lawmakers fear proposal could lead to more discrimination

A provision in the defense bill could lead to discrimination against LGBT Americans, say some House members. (Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call)
A provision in the defense bill could lead to discrimination against LGBT Americans, say some House members. (Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call)
Posted May 16, 2016 at 11:25am

Some GOP House members are trying to strip a provision from the defense authorization bill that they fear would lead to more discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.  

The provision in question was added during a late-night markup of the National Defense Authorization Act in April. Rep. Steve Russell, R-Okla., offered the amendment , which provides protections and exemptions to “any religious corporation, religious association, religious educational institution, or religious society” that receives a federal contract.  

Russell’s amendment would apply to “any branch or agency of the federal government,” not just defense contracts.  

With the full measure expected to come to the floor this week, Rep. Charlie Dent, R-Pa., has offered an amendment to remove the Russell provision, along with a handful of GOP members, including Florida Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who has a transgender son, and Carlos Curbelo, whose re-election race the Rothenberg-Gonzales Political Report/Roll Call rates as a Toss-Up .  

Rep. Mike Coffman, initially voted for Russell’s amendment, but the Colorado Republican is now co-sponsoring the effort to take that provision out of the bill.  

Coffman’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday morning. Coffman’s represents a swing district based in Aurora, Colorado. The Rothenberg-Gonzales Political Report/Roll Call rates his re-election race as Leans Republican .   

Democrats and gay rights advocates argue that the current amendment would undo President Barack Obama’s 2014 executive order that banned federal contractors from discriminating based on sexual orientation or gender identity.  


Related: LGBT Executive Order Signed by Obama


“The exemption is meant for religious organizations,” said Armed Services Committee ranking Democrat Adam Smith of Washington “The way this amendment is written, it doesn’t matter if you are a religious organization. You could be a private contractor and this basically gives you the right to discriminate if you decide that you just don’t want to do business with gay people.”  

But Russell countered that his amendment was about extending religious liberty protections to Defense Department contractors, since the department had not yet codified the religious protections.  

“This is not what is being characterized, “Russell said during committee markup. “This rule affirms prior policy that faith-based organizations are no less eligible than secular organizations to deliver federally funded services … This is reaffirming what the president is already doing in making a level playing field.”  


Related: Will Pro-LGBT Stance Hurt GOP Senators


The amendment narrowly passed the committee, 33-29 .  Two Republicans, Rep. Frank A. LoBiondo of New Jersey and Nevada Rep. Joe Heck, who is running for the Senate , voted against it.   

Whether the entire House will vote to remove the provision will be up to the Rules Committee , which meets Monday afternoon on the defense bill. 

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