News (USA)

Defense bill stripped of provision that would have allowed discrimination

A controversial amendment to a crucial piece of legislation to fund U.S. military operations around the world has been ditched by a conference committee, removing a threat to President Obama’s standing executive order that bars federal contractors from engaging in workplace discrimination against lesbians, gays, bisexual and transgender Americans.

The $619 billion package is expected to reach the House floor on Friday for a vote, then sent to the Senate.

But as the Washington Blade reported, the threat to LGBTQ workplace protections has not been eliminated, given the election of president-elect Donald Trump.

President Obama had threatened to veto the defense authorization bill because of the measure inserted as an amendment by conservative Oklahoma congressman Rep. Steve Russell in April.

This provision would have provided an exemption to any religious organization that entered into a contract with the federal government. Since neither the Civil Rights Act of 1964 nor the Americans with Disabilities Act prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, the Russell amendment would have given anti-LGBTQ religious organizations a green light to discriminate on that basis.

The provision existed only in the House version of the defense funding bill; the original Senate version of the defense legislation did not have any such language.

But even if it passes both the House and Senate and is signed into law by President Obama, his successor poses a huge danger to his executive order on workplace discrimination. President-elect Donald Trump could scrap it, or the Republican-controlled Congress could delay the vote until after the inauguration and re-insert the Russell Amendment, without fear of a presidential veto.

“The Russell amendment was in response to the executive orders,” an aide told the Blade, in a briefing with reporters about the National Defense Authorization Act conference committee meeting Tuesday. “The NDAA was always an imperfect remedy for that problem. Subsequent to the election, new paths have opened up to address those issues. It’s still a very important issue for members and they intend to pursue those other paths.”

Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, a Democrat who sounded the alarm about the provision from the get-go, issued a statement praising the conference committee’s decision but warning the fight wasn’t over. “The Russell Amendment stood in direct contradiction to our core American values,” Blumenthal said.

“Eliminating this dangerous provision from the final bill is a victory, but let us be clear: the fight against bigotry, intolerance, and discrimination does not end with the Russell Amendment. Our government should have no part in funding discrimination – not now, not tomorrow, and not next year. In the aftermath of this presidential election, we must be even more vigilant in our efforts to protect the fundamental right of all Americans to equal protection under the law.

No decision after Louisiana court battle over nondiscrimination protections

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