Congress Should Learn From FADA Backlash In The States

  Image from Getty Images

Image from Getty Images

The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform announced that it will hold a hearing on HR 2802, the deceptively named First Amendment Defense Act (FADA), on July 12.

The Committee’s decision to hold this hearing is surprising given the backlash that states have faced when trying to pass and enact their own FADA legislation.  Although some state FADA bills differ slightly from the federal FADA and each bill differs from state to state, all FADAs would result in allowing religious beliefs about marriage and sex to justify discrimination. Here’s what happened with FADA bills in four key states this session: 

Mississippi FADA:  Unconstitutional

Mississippi is the only state to enact a FADA. Mississippi HB 1523 allowed a broad range of individuals, corporations, healthcare providers, and nonprofit organizations—including those that receive taxpayer funding to perform social services—to refuse to provide goods and services to many individuals and their families, including same-sex couples, single mothers, divorcees, anyone who has sex outside of marriage, and transgender individuals. 

In the hours after Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant signed HB 1523 into law, politicians, academics, celebrities, writers, companies, and even other countries condemned the action. Some even called for travel bans and boycotts. President Obama spoke out against the bill stating that it was “wrong and should be overturned,” and three federal agencies announced they would review the law. Most recently, a federal judge blocked the law from going into effect because it violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

Georgia FADA: Vetoed

Georgia’s HB 757, did not start out as a FADA, but lawmakers amended the bill to include harmful FADA language that would have sanctioned taxpayer-funded discrimination. At one point, the bill even permitted government clerks to discriminate against interfaith and interracial couples. More than 500 businesses joined a coalition to oppose the bill, and faith leaders also expressed their opposition. Ultimately, Governor Nathan Deal vetoed the bill, explaining : “I do not think we have to discriminate against anyone to protect the faith-based community in Georgia of which my family and I are a part of for all of our lives.” 

Virginia FADA:  Vetoed

Like the Georgia bill, Virginia SB 41 had a long and winding path.  It morphed from a bill focused on allowing government employees to refuse to solemnize marriages based on religious beliefs to a broad FADA that would have permitted widespread discrimination. Governor Terry McAuliffe vetoed the harmful bill, stating:

"Although couched as a 'religious freedom' bill, this legislation is nothing more than an attempt to stigmatize . . . styled in a manner that prefers one religious viewpoint—that marriage can only validly exist between a man and a woman—over all other viewpoints.  Such a dynamic is not only unconstitutional, it equates to discrimination under the guise of religious freedom."

Missouri FADA: Filibuster and Ultimately Failure

Missouri’s FADA, SJR 39, actually took the drastic step of calling for an amendment to the state constitution to permit discrimination. When SJR 39 reached the Senate floor, eight state senators launched a nearly 40-hour-long filibuster to block the measure from a vote. Despite these valiant efforts, SJR 39 eventually passed the Senate. The filibuster, however, had garnered national attention and spurred greater opposition ranging from members of the public to Missouri-based and international businesses. Ultimately the bill died when a House Committee vote resulted in a tie.

For more information on these and other FADA bills and what we have done to fight them, check out our state tracker.

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It’s not too late for you to help us tell Congress what a bad idea FADA is.  Members of Congress should heed the warning from the states – FADA would allow discrimination, something that is, not surprisingly, unpopular and unconstitutional. If you haven’t done so already, contact your Representative or tweet at @jasoninthehouse and @SpeakerRyan.