‘Religious liberty’ anti-LGBT amendment puts defense budget at risk

© Herb Swanson
A necessary defense bill has become a loaded issue after Republican lawmakers attached a provision that allows federal contractors to discriminate against employees based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.

The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) is a very basic federal law which creates the budget for the Department of Defense. It is reauthorized every year, along with any amendments that get attached to it. However, this year the NDAA has taken on a more controversial role, due to the attached Russell Amendment that many see as legalizing discrimination against the LGBT community.

The Russell Amendment, named after it was introduced by Representative Steve Russell (R-Oklahoma), was attached to the NDAA in the middle of the night and was passed by the House without a hearing, NBC reported.

In a letter to the House and Senate Armed Services Committees, 42 Democratic senators urged the committee to remove the section, saying it “would vastly expand religious-affiliated organizations receiving federal funds to engage in discriminatory hiring practices.

It is not only LGBT employees whose jobs would be at risk due to the Russell Amendment. The letter explains that the amendment “would also allow religiously-affiliated contractors and grantees to inquire about and discriminate against employees or potential employees based on an individual’s religion.

The language of the amendment “would give legal grounds for an employer to prevent a gay man from having their husband added to their health insurance,” David Stacy, government affairs director for the Human Rights Campaign, explained to NBC. “Trans people could be fired from their job upon announcing their intent to transition."

Senate Democrats are pushing for Republicans to drop the provision and have reached out to Chairman of Senate Armed Services Committee John McCain (R-Arizona) to remove the provision from the Senate version of the NDAA.

Stacy encouraged McCain to “stand with the majority of fair-minded Arizonans – and Americans all across the country – and drop this discriminatory provision,” The Washington Post quoted.

However, the likelihood of McCain crossing party lines for the issue is unlikely to happen anytime soon. He was quoted by NBC as saying, "I think it's pretty obvious that we're going to have to go to lame duck," meaning it would not be resolved until after Election Day.

Democrats seem to be prepared to put up a fight over the religious liberties act. While no Democrat has outright threatened to filibuster the NDAA if the Russell Amendment is included, Senator David Blumenthal (D-Connecticut) told NBC: "We will have to consider all the options.”

However, supporters of the amendment claim that military chaplains need the Russell Amendment in order to use vendors that meet their religious standards. But if President Barack Obama’s 2014 executive order that prohibits federal contractors from discriminating against LGBT workers is not given a religious exemption, chaplains would be forced to disregard their religious beliefs while choosing vendors for prayer rugs, music, and other tools they use.

However, the Russell Amendment is not limited to military chaplains, especially because out of the more than 1.4 million active military members, less than 3,000 are military chaplains.