Metro Weekly

Anti-LGBT amendment stripped from defense bill

Rep. Steve Russell pulls amendment after being assured Trump will sign a "religious freedom" executive order

Steve Russell - Photo: U.S. Congress.
Steve Russell – Photo: U.S. Congress.

The Republican lawmaker behind an anti-LGBT provision that was added to the annual defense bill has withdrawn his amendment, according to Bloomberg News

Rep. Steve Russell (Okla.) had initially introduced the amendment to allow any “religious corporation, religious association, religious educational institution or religious society” to exempt itself from adhering to an executive order issued by President Obama in 2014. That order prohibits federal contractors from discriminating against prospective employees on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

Russell and Republican allies argued that the amendment was necessary to reinforce existing exemptions for religious groups in Obama’s executive order in order to preserve “religious liberty.” But Democrats and LGBT rights advocates argued that Russell’s amendment sought to expand the definition of what could be considered a religiously-affiliated organization in order to justify discrimination against LGBT people.

But on Wednesday Russell withdrew his amendment after receiving assurances from the Donald Trump transition team that the president-elect would issue an executive order allowing such exemptions. As a result, the defense bill that emerges from the conference committee between House and Senate members will not have any anti-LGBT provisions, thereby lessening Democratic opposition to the underlying bill and the threat of an Obama veto.

Even had Russell not withdrawn his amendment, it’s unclear whether it would have emerged unscathed in the final version of the defense authorization bill. In addition to the possibility of a presidential veto should the amendment remain intact, 42 U.S. senators previously expressed their opposition to the amendment. On Nov. 15, a dozen civil rights organizations submitted more than 342,000 petition signatures from concerned citizens who opposed the Russell Amendment to the offices of the chairman and ranking members of the House and Senate Armed Services Committees.

U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), who was leading the Senate opposition to the Russell Amendment, issued a statement celebrating the removal of the amendment.

“The Russell Amendment stood in direct contradiction to our core American values,” Blumenthal said in a statement. “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.”

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