by Mike Andrew -
SGN Staff Writer
A group of US senators led by Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) - and including both of Washington's senators, Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell - are demanding that anti-LGBT language be stripped out of the pending defense appropriations bill, called the NDAA.
The language, contained in what is called 'the Russell Amendment,' was passed by the House but is absent in the Senate version of the NDAA. The senators hope to remove the language in the conference committee that will try to reconcile the differing versions of the bill.
Under the Russell Amendment, religiously affiliated organizations that receive federal funds could claim a right to use those funds to:
o fire an employee who uses birth control or who is pregnant and unmarried;
o fire an employee who marries a same-sex partner; or
o refuse to interview someone because they follow a religious tradition different from the employer's.
'If enacted, [the Russell Amendment] would vastly expand religious exemptions under the Civil Rights Act and Americans with Disabilities Act to allow religiously affiliated organizations receiving federal funds to engage in discriminatory hiring practices - using taxpayer dollars to harm hard-working Americans who deserve to be protected from workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, religious identity, or reproduction and other health care decisions,' the senators wrote in a letter to the chairs and ranking members of the House and Senate Armed Services Committees.
'Our government should have no part in funding discrimination. [The Russell Amendment] is at odds with the values and beliefs that continue to advance our great nation.'
The letter was signed by Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Mazie K. Hirono (D-Hawaii), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Al Franken (D-Minn.), Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Gary Peters (D-Mich.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Christopher Coons (D-Del.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Tom Carper (D-Del.), Cory A. Booker (D-N.J.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Jon Tester (D-Mt.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Mark Warner (D-Va.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Angus S. King, Jr. (I-Me.), and Robert P. Casey, Jr. (D-Pa.).
Human rights and LGBT organizations also called for the Russell Amendment to be scrapped.
'We're pleased to see so many senators step forward and agree that taxpayer dollars should never be used to discriminate,' HRC Government Affairs Director David Stacy said.
'The Russell Amendment is a sweeping expansion of taxpayer-funded discrimination that undermines existing nondiscrimination protections for LGBT Americans. This provision is terrible policy created by an even worse process - it was adopted in the dark of night despite bipartisan opposition and never having had a hearing. This has no place in the annual defense bill. Sen. McCain should stand with the majority of fair-minded Arizonans - and Americans all across the country - and drop this discriminatory provision.'
'The Russell Amendment is one of the most significant threats to LGBT people and women we have seen in Congress in years,' Louise Melling, SACLU Deputy Legal Director and Director of the ACLU Center for Liberty said.
'It must be removed from the defense bill - freedom, equality, and fairness are at stake. The ACLU is proud to stand with Sen. Blumenthal and the 41 other signers of this letter as a show of force in rejecting taxpayer-funded discrimination.'
In addition to HRC and the ACLU, Planned Parenthood, NARAL, and Americans United for the Separation of Church and State issued statements opposing the Russell Amendment.
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