US: Bill introduced to protect anti-equal marriage groups ‘from discrimination by the government’

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A bill has been introduced to “protect” religious institutions, and organisations opposed to equal marriage, “from discrimination by the federal government.”

The Marriage and Religious Freedom Act, introduced this week was drafted by Representative Raul Labrador, of Idaho.

In an interview this week he described it as a “narrowly-tailored piece of legislation”, drafted out of a fear that the IRS and other federal agencies may unfairly target groups opposed to same-sex marriage, in the wake of the strike-down of the Defense of Marriage Act by the US Supreme Court in June.

Following the DOMA strike-down “there were a lot of ideas about what to do,” Labrador said. “Some people looked at overturning it, or doing a constitutional amendment. I looked at the immediate need, which is the protection of religious institutions and churches, so that they can continue practising their religion as they see fit.”

When asked of any evidence of government discrimination against such groups, Labrador noted a California bill which would remove the tax-exempt status of the Boy Scouts of America (BSA), unless it fully accepted gay members, volunteers, and staff, and which was approved in the Senate in the US state of California back in May.

He also cited Democratic support of such a measure.

“I see it coming, it’s already happening at the state level and you’re hearing rhetoric at the federal level,” Labrador said.

Gay rights groups have voiced anger at the introduction of the bill, saying there is no need to provide more protections for such groups, when the First Amendment is already in place to provide such.

“There is no evidence that federal programs have or would discriminate against people because of their religious beliefs about marriage,” said Fred Sainz, a spokesman for the Human Rights Campaign.

“What is clear, however, is that this legislation would give a free pass to federal workers, recipients of taxpayer-funded grants and others to discriminate against lawfully married couples.”

“This bill will set a very dangerous precedent,” Sainz said in an email to the Washington Post. “Accommodating religious beliefs on marriage may only be the beginning. The bill’s language makes clear that it should be interpreted as broadly as possible. Should federal workers and those who do business with the government get to turn away anybody they do not like based on religion — unmarried pregnant women? Atheists?  Muslims?  Or even another member of their own faith with different views?”

The Marriage and Religous Freedom Act is co-sponsored by 58 Republicans and 2 Democrats.