The U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark decision on same-sex marriage is dividing congressional Republicans into two camps, with one backing a controversial bill that could allow religious groups to fire lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employees and the other supporting expanded protections for same-sex couples.
Introduced by Rep. Raul R. Labrador, R-Idaho, last month, H.R. 2802 has since gained 130 co-sponsors. It aims to protect tax-exempt religious groups that object to same-sex marriage from federal government prosecution. The Senate version of the bill was introduced by Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah.
“All religious Americans deserve assurance that they can carry out their conscience without a federal government crackdown,” said Rep. Bill Flores, R-Texas. He is the chair of the conservative Republican Study Committee, which this week demanded a vote on the bill.
In an attempt to soften any blow the legislation could have on the Republican Party’s standing as support for gay marriage continues to grow throughout the U.S., Rep. Charlie Dent, R-Pa., has readied an amendment with two provisions, one under the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and another under the Fair Housing Act. “This [bill] opens up a can of worms, and Congress needs to show it can do two things at once: protect religious freedoms and provide legal protections for nondiscrimination,” he said.
Dent’s amendment would prevent discrimination against same-sex couples with regard to employment and housing, while still shielding religious groups from potential prosecution. “I understand the concerns,” he said. “I think everybody agrees religious institutions should be protected to practice their faith as they see fit, but I’m concerned there are some who want to take the Supreme Court decision and open up a new front.”
The Supreme Court ruling in favor of same-sex marriage June 26 decreed that all U.S. states must grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples who seek them. If a nonprofit organization or individual turns them away, it could face having its tax-exempt status revoked.
The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee intended to formally draft the bill next week, but the committee’s chairman, Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, said Friday it is unlikely it will happen before Congress’ August recess.