U.S. Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton
Photo by Todd Franson
In the wake of the backlash against the passage of a “Religious Freedom Restoration Act” in Indiana that opponents say will lead to outright discrimination in public accommodations against LGBT people, Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) is using calls to boycott Indiana or to have local governments to ban official government travel to the Hoosier State as evidence that anti-gay animus is not accepted by the majority of Americans.
More specifically, Norton has set her sights on combating a resolution of disapproval introduced by Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and James Lankford (R-Okla.) that seeks to repeal a D.C. Council bill amending the District’s Human Rights Act by removing the Armstrong Amendment, a congressionally-approved legislation that carves out an exemption for religiously-affiliated educational institutions as it pertains to nondiscrimination protections for sexual orientation and gender identity. The two senators also introduced a resolution disapproving of an additional D. C. Council-approved bill that prohibits employers from discriminating against employees based on their personal reproductive health decisions, which Norton is also defending. The latter bill was a response to the Supreme Court’s decision in the 2014 Hobby Lobby case, where the justices determined that requiring employers to cover contraceptive costs in their insurance plans violates a business’s exercise of religion under the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
Under the Home Rule Act of 1973, any bill passed by the Council and signed into law by the mayor must undergo a 30-day period of congressional review before going into effect. Congress, if it wishes, can attempt to overturn any law by passing a resolution of disapproval, which then must be signed into effect by the president.
“The national opposition to Indiana’s discriminatory law has been remarkable and demonstrates that the American people will not allow LGBT individuals and other citizens to endure discrimination in the name of religious freedom,” Norton said in a statement. “The fight in Indiana is similar to the one we are waging in the District of Columbia, except the tables are turned. The D.C. Council passed two bills to protect our residents from discrimination, but those are under attack by Senator Ted Cruz.”
Norton has previously butted heads with the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank that has urged Congress to overturn the bill, which would restore the Armstrong Amendment and keep it in the D.C. Human Rights Act. Heritage fellow Ryan Anderson, who focuses on issues dealing with marriage and religious liberty for the foundation, has previously argued that the D.C. Human Rights Act has still been able to be enforced with the Armstrong Amendment intact for the past 25 years, meaning there is no compelling state interest for repealing the exemption for religiously-affiliated private educational institutions. Still, Norton has persisted in her defense of the bill as passed by the Council.
“The bills will do no more than protect D.C. residents from discrimination by their employers because of their reproductive health decisions and students from discrimination for their sexual orientation at their own schools and universities,” Norton continued. “We do not intend to allow religion to be pitted against the right of individuals to be free from discrimination. The U.S. Supreme Court has made clear that religious rights should be accommodated where they do not nullify the rights of others. Indiana seeks to deny protection to LGBT Americans in the name of religion, not to accommodate religious rights…. In the case of LGBT students that the District seeks to protect from discrimination, Georgetown University, for example, has avoided discriminating against LGBT students while adhering to the university’s strong Catholic traditions…. I urge Indiana to reconsider the radical discriminatory law to accommodate the equal treatment of LGBT citizens under the law.”