March 16, 2018 at 12:59 pm EDT | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Norton says ‘religious freedom’ bill could gut D.C. LGBT rights laws
Eleanor Holmes Norton, gay news, Washington Blade, FADA

This bill is the latest outrageous Republican attack on the District, focusing particularly on our LGBT community,’ said Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton. (Washington Blade photo by Jeff Surprenant)

D.C. Congressional Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) released a statement warning that the latest version of the anti-LGBT First Amendment Defense Act introduced last week by Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) includes language that could “gut” D.C.’s LGBT non-discrimination laws.

Norton said a clause in the reintroduced bill that appears to have been missed by the media and LGBT rights organizations defines D.C.’s local government as a federal government entity for purposes of enforcing the Senate bill, known as FADA.

“This bill is the latest outrageous Republican attack on the District, focusing particularly on our LGBT community and the District’s right to self-government,” Norton said. “We will not allow Republicans to discriminate against the LGBT community under the guise of religious liberty,” she said.

“We are especially offended that this bill was rewritten to single out the District,” Norton added. “I intend to see that this discriminatory, anti-home rule bill does not become law.”

At the time Lee introduced the bill on March 8, 21 senators, all Republicans and no Democrats, signed on as co-sponsors.

The bill states in its introduction that the federal government “shall not take any discriminatory action against a person, wholly or partially on the basis that such person speaks, or acts, in accordance with a sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction that marriage is or should be recognized as a union of one man and one women, or two individuals as recognized under federal law, or that sexual relations outside marriage are improper.”

Attorneys have said the legislation would infringe upon LGBT rights in various ways by curtailing federal non-discrimination protections for LGBT people.

But Norton for the first time has said the newly introduced FADA bill would single out D.C. and its locally passed nondiscrimination laws and policies that protect LGBT people. Norton notes that the law would not interfere in the nondiscrimination laws adopted by states, only federal and D.C. laws and policies.

“When FADA was introduced last Congress, it only applied to the federal government,” she said. “While the FADA sponsors said publicly last Congress that the bill would be rewritten to apply to D.C., this is the first time it in fact does so.”

Norton said Lee “frequently disregards his professed support for local control when it comes to the District.” She noted that in prior Congresses Lee has introduced bills to ban abortions in D.C. after 20 weeks of pregnancy and to gut D.C.’s occupational licensing law.

In a statement released at the time he reintroduced the FADA bill, Lee strongly denied it would target LGBT people.

“Does FADA make it legal for businesses to refuse service to gay people?” he said in a ‘Q&A’ statement. “No. FADA does not alter public accommodations law. Does FADA allow federal bureaucrats to refuse to process benefits and claims made by same-sex couples?” he continued. “No. FADA does not allow federal employees to refuse to process benefits and claims by same-sex couples.”

LGBT rights advocates have disputed those assertions saying, for example, that Lee failed to mention that non-profit organizations funded by the federal government would be allowed to refuse services for LGBT people under the proposed bill.

“Once again, Republicans in Congress who falsely claim to want to limit the reach of the federal government are abusing their power to limit the rights of people in the District of Columbia,” said David Stacy, government affairs director for the Human Rights Campaign.

“Applying the so-called First Amendment Defense Act to D.C. makes a horrible bill even worse,” Stacy said. “The only acceptable outcome is defeating the bill in its entirety. The rights of all LGBTQ people in the United States are not up for negotiation, regardless of where they live,” he said.

A spokesperson for D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser couldn’t immediately be reached for comment on the bill. The Blade will update this story when additional information becomes available.

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

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