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House of Representatives put LGBT rights at risk

Update 12/05/16: The Russell Amendment was removed from the National Defense Authorization Act after lawmakers received more than 342,000 petition signatures collected by the American Military Partner Association, American Civil Liberties Union, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, the Center for American Progress Action Fund, the Human Rights Campaign and other national organizations.

LGBT employment protections on the line; votes favor ‘religious freedom.’

Two separate votes represent a serious setback for LGBT employment protections.6080137063_71b986b12f_b

A massive National Defense Authorization Act, passed 277 to 147 late on Wednesday, contained a provision that would allow federal contractors to fire employees for being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. The language tucked into the the 1,299-page bill would invalidate President Barack Obama’s 2014 executive action that makes it illegal for government contractors to fire or harass employees based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. The provision was slipped into the bill by Rep. Steve Russell (R-Okla.) weeks before on the basis of preserving government contractors’ right to exercise religious beliefs.

At least one congressman, Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.), opposed the behemoth purely because of the anti-LGBT provision.

On Thursday, seven Republicans switched their votes under pressure from House leaders  and defeated a measure to uphold the very same employment protections. An amendment by Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.) to a House spending bill would have preserved the language in the same executive action threatened the night before. Rep. Steve Russell, (R-Okla.) led the charge to delay the final vote long enough to gain enough support to defeat the amendment. Democrats were outraged, loudly chanting, “Shame! Shame!” as Republicans patrolled the House floor looking to persuade colleagues back to their side of the vote. After the chaos subdued, the final vote was 213-212. The amendment to prohibit awarding taxpayer dollars to religious organizations that do not abide by the executive order had failed.

The Seven Republicans who switched sides at the last, crucial moment are Reps. Darrell Issa, Jeff Denham, David Valadao and Mimi Walters of California; Greg Walden of Oregon; Bruce Poliquin of Maine; and David Young of Iowa.

The government awards more than 2,000 contracts to religious organizations every year. Rep. Steve Russell’s measure, contained in theNational Defense Authorization Act,  would affect every grant, contract and purchase order made by every federal agency, including contracts with hospitals, homeless shelters, colleges, schools, domestic violence shelters, and adoption agencies.

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