Trump order protects ‘freedom to discriminate’ against LGBT people

CINCINNATI, OH - DECEMBER 01: President-elect Donald Trump and Vice President-elect Mike Pence stand onstage together at U.S. Bank Arena on December 1, 2016 in Cincinnati, Ohio. Trump took time off from selecting the cabinet for his incoming administration to celebrate his victory in the general election. (Photo by Ty Wright/Getty Images)

The Trump administration has issued a directive giving the go-ahead for religious businesses to discriminate against LGBT people.

The federal government directive was issued today by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who had been tasked by Trump to head a ‘review’ of religious liberty protections, after pressure from anti-LGBT lobbying groups.

The guidance overrides executive orders issues by President Obama that protected LGBT people from some forms of discrimination, declaring that people should be free to discriminate on the grounds of religion.

Sessions’ guidance claims that the Constitution “protects the right to perform or abstain from performing certain physical acts in accordance with one’s beliefs”, granting an unlimited license to discriminate based on religion.

It adds: “Except in the narrowest circumstances, no one should be forced to choose between living out his or her faith and complying with the law.

“To the greatest extent practicable and permitted by law, religious observance and practice should be reasonably accommodated in all government activity.”

Jeff Sessions (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

And it’s not just your local mom and pop shop that has carte blanche to discriminate either.

The order clarifies that the protections apply “not just to individuals, but also to organisations, associations, and at least some for-profit corporations”.

Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin said: “Today the Trump-Pence administration launched an all-out assault on LGBTQ people, women, and other minority communities by unleashing a sweeping license to discriminate.

“This blatant attempt to further Donald Trump’s cynical and hateful agenda will enable systematic, government-wide discrimination that will have a devastating impact on LGBTQ people and their families.

“Donald Trump and Mike Pence have proven they will stop at nothing to target the LGBTQ community and drag our nation backwards. We will fight them every step of the way.”

He added: “It’s unconscionable that the Trump-Pence administration also today encouraged employers to exert control over the essential health care decisions of their employees.

“The rule change on contraception will undoubtedly limit access to vitally important care that women and so many in the LGBTQ community rely on every day.

“We each deserve to have the freedom to live and plan our lives with dignity, and this administration’s reckless efforts to undermine the health care of millions of Americans must be stopped.”

Jeff Sessions (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Sarah Kate Ellis, President and CEO of GLAAD, said: “Today’s guidance by Jeff Sessions proves this Administration will do anything possible to categorize LGBTQ Americans as second-class citizens who are not equal under the law.

“Freedom of religion is paramount to our nation’s success, but does not give people the right to impose their beliefs on others, to harm others, or to discriminate.

“Nothing could be more un-American and unholy than using religion to justify harm and discrimination to others.”

DNC spokesperson Joel Kasnetz said: “If Jeff Sessions is attacking LGBTQ people, it must be a day that ends in a ‘y.’

“Religious freedom is a fundamental right, but the attorney general’s directive is nothing but a license for businesses to discriminate.

“Despite claiming to support our community, Donald Trump has proved to be one of the country’s biggest threats to LGBTQ people.

“Democrats support the right of LGBTQ people to live and work without fear of being fired or discriminated against simply because of who they are.

“It’s time for Sessions to stop using the Justice Department as a tool for division and discrimination.”

There had been several warning signs that the Trump administration was planning such a move.

Earlier this year Donald Trump signed an order appointed anti-LGBT conservative Jeff Sessions to heady a ‘religious freedom’ review.

An early draft of a order was also leaked from inside the White House showed plans to protect people who discriminate based on “the belief that marriage is or should be recognised as the union of one man and one woman [or that] male and female refer to an individual’s immutable biological sex as objectively determined by anatomy at birth”.

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However, the final version of the order was edited to remove the explicitly anti-LGBT language, which would have been extremely vulnerable to a legal challenge.

The Trump administration also made an uninvited intervention into a discrimination case this year to argue against civil rights protections for gay people.

The case surrounds skydiving instructor Donald Zarda, who was allegedly fired by his employer Altitude Express for being gay.

But the justice department, led by Sessions, argued that the 1964 Civil Rights Act – which outlaws discrimination based on a number of characteristics – does not provide any protections for gay people, despite outlawing sex-based discrimination.

Sessions has also sought to undermine transgender rights protections.