Tuesday’s congressional hearing on a federal “religious freedom” bill that would enable anti-LGBT discrimination is “disturbing,” a White House spokesperson said Monday.
Jeff Tiller, a White House spokesperson, made the remarks in response to an email request from the Washington Blade to comment on the House Committee on Oversight & Government Reform’s controversial hearing on the First Amendment Defense Act.
“We strongly oppose attempts to roll back non-discrimination protections for LGBT Americans,” Tiller said. “It’s disturbing that congressional Republicans plan to hold a hearing tomorrow on discriminatory, anti-LGBT legislation. President Obama remains firmly committed to promoting and defending the equal rights of all Americans, including the rights of LGBT Americans.”
A coalition of 70 groups has called on Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) to cancel the hearing, which is set to take place on the one-month anniversary of the mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla., claiming the lives of 49 people and wounding 53 others. The White House didn’t respond to a follow-up e-mail on whether the Obama administration agrees the hearing should be cancelled.
The Blade has placed a request with the House Committee on Oversight & Government Reform seeking comment on the White House statement on the hearing.
The White House issued its statement after Press Secretary Josh Earnest said under questioning from the Blade Monday he was unaware of the First Amendment Defense Act or the upcoming hearing on the legislation.
“I have to admit I’m not aware of the hearing at all, and I’m not sure what bill they’re planning to consider,” Earnest said. “I don’t know anything about the bill, so why don’t you see if I can collect some more information for you and we’ll get back.”
Introduced by Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho) in the U.S. House and Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) in the U.S. Senate, the First Amendment Defense Act has the purported purpose of preventing federal government action against individuals and businesses that oppose same-sex marriage for religious reasons. Critics say it essentially carves out a legal exemption for anti-LGBT discrimination.
According to a graphic published on Monday from the Human Rights Campaign, the First Amendment Defense Act would allow companies to circumvent federal protections against anti-LGBT discrimination; permit businesses to withhold benefits from same-sex couples; allow companies to decline to give time off to an employee to care for a same-sex spouse; and permit housing discrimination against same-sex couples.
— HumanRightsCampaign (@HRC) July 11, 2016
Witnesses scheduled to testify in favor of the legislation include Labrador and Lee as well as Kelvin Cochran, a former Atlanta fire chief fired for distributing a book making a biblical case against homosexuality; Kristen Waggoner, senior counsel and senior vice president of U.S. legal advocacy for the anti-LGBT Alliance Defending Freedom; and Matthew Franck, a political science professor from the Witherspoon Institute.
Set to testify against the legislation is gay former Rep. Barney Frank; Jim Obergefell, the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit extending marriage equality nationwide; and Katherine Franke, a law professor at Columbia University’s Center for Gender and Sexuality Law.