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GOP strips U.S. defense bill of LGBT protections
by Matt Simonette
2016-05-22

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LGBT-rights activists and organizations decried the May 18 passage of a new National Defense Authorization Act ( NDAA ) containing an anti-LGBT provision.

The provision, inserted by U.S. Rep. Steve Russell ( R-OK ), removes a rule—instigated by a 2014 executive action from President Obama—that prohibits discrimination against employees of federal contractors because of sexual orientation or gender identity. The House approved the bill 277-147.

"Taxpayer funded discrimination is always wrong and today the House followed in the footsteps of North Carolina, Mississippi, Indiana and other states that are targeting LGBT Americans," said Human Rights Campaign Government Affairs Director David Stacy in a May 20 statement. "Instead of listening to the super-majority of the American people who support legal protections for LGBT people, the House majority is catering to right wing extremists who would turn back the clock on equality. We are very disappointed that House Republican Leadership allowed this bill to move forward with a discriminatory and harmful anti-LGBT provision, and we are committed to working with our allies in the Senate and House to keep this harmful language from the final version of the defense bill."

"It's an absolute disgrace that the House Majority Leadership would push this outrageous amendment that is designed to promote discrimination against LGBTQ employees of federal contractors and to destroy people's livelihoods. Our hope is that the champions of equality will prevail and this attack on people's right to make a living for themselves and their families will be weeded out in conference committee," added Rea Carey, executive director, National LGBTQ Task Force Action Fund, in a statement.

U.S. Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, who is openly gay, filed an amendment to strip Russell's provision, but that effort was rejected in a vote that erupted in chaos May 19 on the House floor, according to reports. Supporters of the amendment had obtained 217 "yes" votes while detractors had obtained 206 when the clock ran out; 213 votes were needed for it to pass. But the vote was held open—that is, the final gavel not brought down—while Republican leaders urged members to change their votes; several congressmen acquiesced and the measure was defeated 212-213, according to The Hill.

"This is one of the ugliest episodes I've experienced in my three-plus years as a member of this House," said Maloney. Democrats reportedly cried "shame" as they watched the tallies change.

In a May 19 statement, U.S. Rep. Mike Quigley ( D-IL ) said that he "proudly voted no" on the NDAA because of the Russell Amendment, and decried the vote surrounding Maloney's measure.

"Discrimination has no place in our armed services, our workplaces or our country. From the repeal of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' to the Supreme Court's landmark decision on marriage equality, it's clear incredible progress has been made in the fight for LGBT equality," Quigley said. "But amendments like Rep. Russell's demonstrate how much work still remains as we continue to move towards a more perfect union."

The authorization now goes to the Senate, where it will be subject to much negotiation and reconciliation, and must eventually be signed by President Obama.

The Hill's story is at bit.ly/22kN9Hw .


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