Although the Republican National Committee rejected two anti-gay resolutions at its recent summer meeting, the party quietly agreed to another measure in favor of a federal religious freedom bill seen to enable anti-LGBT discrimination.
Citing the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision in favor of same-sex marriage nationwide and concerns that “many on the Left exhibit an intensifying hatred and intolerance for gay marriage dissenters,” the resolution calls for passage of the First Amendment Defense Act.
“The Republican National Committee urges Congress to pass and the President to sign The First Amendment Defense Act to protect the rights of believers to equal treatment by the government of The United States of America,” the resolution says.
The resolution wasn’t announced or reported anywhere in the press until last week after its passage when the Daily Signal, a conservative publication, published an article on the measure. A RNC official confirmed for the Washington Blade the report was accurate.
The First Amendment Defense Act — introduced by Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho) in the U.S. House and Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) in the U.S. Senate — on its face prohibits the federal government from taking action against individuals who oppose same-sex marriage, although individuals is defined broadly in the bill to include for-profit businesses.
But critics say the legislation would go further and enable anti-LGBT discrimination — as well as potential bias against single mothers and unmarried couples. Among other things, it would allow government workers to refuse to issue marriage licenses for same-sex couples and compromise President Obama’s executive order barring federal contractors from engaging in anti-LGBT bias.
Ellen Barrosse, the RNC Chair of the Conservative Steering Committee, is quoted in The Daily Signal as saying the resolution is “an attempt, for those of us who are people of faith, to protect religious organizations.”
Barrosse also reportedly dismissed the argument the First Amendment Defense Act would enable anti-LGBT discrimination and is quoted as saying, “Americans abhor discrimination.”
Nonetheless, LGBT advocates blasted the RNC for passing a measure in support of legislation they say would only serve to undermine LGBT rights.
JoDee Winterhof, senior Vice President for Policy and Political Affairs for the Human Rights Campaign, drew a distinction between the actual impact of the bill and religious liberty, saying Republican presidential candidates should speak out against it.
“The right to believe is fundamental, but the right to use taxpayer dollars to promote discrimination is not,” Winterhof said. “It’s no wonder the RNC attempted to keep quiet its support for a reckless and irresponsible bill that would promote discrimination with taxpayers’ money and reward discriminatory actions by federal employees with taxpayer funding. Those Republican candidates who choose not to speak out against this RNC resolution should not be shocked when LGBT Americans choose to not give them the benefit of the doubt next November.”
TJ Helmstetter, a spokesperson for the Democratic National Committee, took the Republican Party to task for adopting the resolution.
“The Supreme Court ruled, love won, it’s time for the Republicans to get over it,” Helmstetter said. “Yet there are county clerks who still refuse to issue marriage licenses and the RNC wants to tell businesses they’re allowed to discriminate against LGBT people. Democrats want to continue to move the country forward, while the GOP wants to take us back. It’s that simple.”
The passage of the resolution constitutes the first official response of the Republican Party in the aftermath of the Supreme Court ruling in favor of same-sex marriage.
At the same summer meeting, the RNC rules committee rejected a pair of proposed anti-gay resolutions. One introduced by Michigan Republican National Committee member Dave Agema, who was censured by the party for expressing anti-gay and racist views, would have urged schools with gay-inclusive sex education programs to “include the harmful physical aspects of the lifestyle.” The other introduced by Louisiana Republican National Committee member Ross Little would have urged Congress to pass legislation saying the Supreme Court ruling on marriage violates the U.S. Constitution.
Gregory Angelo, executive director of Log Cabin Republicans, said the two rejected anti-gay resolutions combined with the measure endorsing the First Amendment Defense Act was a net-plus for LGBT rights.
“The RNC Cleveland meeting was a major step forward for the GOP — perhaps two steps forward and one step back — but net forward movement nonetheless,” Angelo said.
It remains to be seen whether the Republican-controlled Congress will seek to advance the First Amendment Defense Act. Both U.S. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell were non-committal on the measure when asked about it during separate news conferences in July.