LGBT Protections Under Threat: Republican-Controlled House Armed Services Committee Votes To Roll Back Obama's Executive Order

LGBT protections in America have come under attack again today, as the Republican-controlled House Armed Services Committee has approved an amendment by Rep. Steve Russell (R-OK), by a vote of 33-29, which would roll back protections against anti-LGBT discrimination in the workplace for federal contractors, according to a report from Pink News.

The protections were put into place by an executive order signed by President Obama in 2014, amending existing anti-sexism provisions to also provide protections based on sexual and gender identity. At the time, the president made a statement condemning Congress for a failure to pass similar protections.

"Many of you have worked for a long time to see this day coming. Today, our government will become just a little bit fairer.

It doesn't make much sense, but today in America, millions of our citizens go to work with the awareness they could lose their job because of who they are – lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender – and that's wrong. We're here to do what we can to make it right. To bend the arc of justice, just a little bit, in the right direction.

Once I sign this order… we're going to prohibit all companies that receive contracts from the federal government from discriminating against their LGBT employees. This is not a matter of political correctness. People lose their jobs. Their lives are threatened, their families are threatened. It's time to address this injustice for every American."

But early Thursday morning, the members of the House of Representatives committee voted in favor of repealing that order -- which is difficult to construe as anything but voting in favor of anti-LGBT discrimination. The only effect of Executive Order 13672 was to add the words "sexual orientation and gender identity" to existing anti-discrimination legislation; the Russell amendment explicitly strips those five words from the FY 2017 National Defense Authorization Act.

The battle over transgender rights is gradually spreading toward Washington.
The battle over transgender rights is gradually spreading toward Washington. [Photo by Chris Jackson/Getty Images]Republicans, unsurprisingly, are citing "religious freedom" as the motivator behind the decision; according to The Hill, Rep. Russell claims that "this rule affirms prior policy that faith-based organizations are no less eligible than secular organizations to deliver federally funded services." It's worth noting that a separate executive order from President Obama has already affirmed that religious-affiliated contractors must be able to compete equally for contracts. "I am sensitive to the objections by the members on the other side of the aisle," he later added. "However, that is not the fight that you're looking for."

Since same-sex marriage was made legal across the country last year, conservative lawmakers seem to be pushing back against LGBT rights wherever they can.
Since same-sex marriage was made legal across the country last year, conservative lawmakers seem to be pushing back against LGBT rights wherever they can. [Photo by George Frey/Getty Images]But House Democrats disagree, saying that the new wording isn't about clarification, but explicitly grants the right to discriminate against LGBT people. Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA), ranking member of the committee, said that the new language could even be extended to discriminate against anyone within any protected class, whether a business identifies with a religion or not, simply by deciding that they don't want to do business with them.
"The way this amendment is written, it doesn't matter if you're a religious organization. Basically, you could be a private contractor, and this basically gives you the right to discriminate if you just decide that you don't want to do business with gay people or anybody else for that matter within a protected class."
Protected classes in the United States range from race, to veterans, to those with disabilities.

The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) "strongly condemned" the Russell amendment, calling Rep. Russell an "anti-LGBT Representative" in their official statement. HRC Government Affairs Director David Stacy suggested that "evidently some House Republicans want to emulate their state legislative colleagues in undermining legal protections for LGBT Americans" and called on House Republican leadership to remove the language from the bill. They also reiterated that the amendment would have "far-reaching intended and unintended consequences," suggesting that, as Rep. Smith noted, the new, vague language could undermine existing non-discrimination protections against every protected class.

With legal protections under threat in every part of the country and every level of government, America is becoming a pretty scary place for LGBT people to live and work -- if they're even allowed to do so.

[Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images]