WASHINGTON (AP) — Congressional Republicans and Democrats clashed Tuesday over legislation the GOP described as upholding religious freedom and Democrats insisted was discriminatory, with no sign of consensus.
The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform held a three-hour hearing to consider the First Amendment Defense Act, a measure to “prohibit the federal government from taking discriminatory action” against a person whose religious beliefs or moral convictions define marriage as a union between a man and a woman.
The legislation has 171 co-sponsors in the House, but faces opposition from Democrats and outside groups who argue it will result in more discrimination against members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community as well as single-parent families.
“Protecting the sacred right to freely exercise your religion is the First Amendment to the Constitution for a reason – it has been and still is fundamental to the foundation of our nation,” said Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, chairman of the committee.
Foes of the bill bemoaned the timing of the hearing on the one-month anniversary of the shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, that left 49 people dead and injured 53.
“With everything going on in this country right now, these horrific shootings of gay people, black people, police officers, what we should be doing is coming together as a nation, not tearing each other apart, which is exactly what this bill does,” said Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, top Democrat on the committee. “To say this hearing is politically tone-deaf is the understatement of the year.”
Jim Obergefell, the lead plaintiff in the 2015 Supreme Court ruling to legalize same-sex marriage in all 50 states, testified as a witness opposing the bill and asked, “What could ever justify such a discriminatory act?”