Leaked Draft of “Religious Freedom” Executive Order Threatens to Legalize LGBTQ Discrimination

If Signed, the Order Would Give Individuals and Organizations a Broad License to Discriminate Against the LGBTQ community, Under the Guise of Protecting “Religious Freedom.”

February 2, 2017

NEW YORK, N.Y. — Following several days of speculation that the Trump Administration will issue an Executive Order that is damaging to the LGBTQ community, the draft text of such an order, leaked from the White House and subsequently published by The Nation, reveals what may be in store. While the leaked order is titled “Establishing a Government-Wide Initiative to Respect Religious Freedom” it is crystal clear that this order — if signed by the President — will provide a sweeping license to discriminate against LGBTQ individuals, same-sex couples and their families, and would deal a devastating blow to the significant progress made toward full legal and lived equality for the LGBTQ community.

Under the guise of “religious freedom,” the order would create religious exemptions for individuals and organizations, including closely-held for-profit corporations, from the requirements laid out by a wide array of federal laws. The order would legalize discrimination by individuals and organizations whose religious beliefs lead them to object to same-sex marriage, premarital sex, abortion, contraception, and trans identity, among a host of other issues.

The impact of this executive order on LGBTQ families and individuals would be significant. For example, Federal employees could refuse to process Social Security claims or tax returns for LGBT people or same-sex couples, a passport application for a child of same-sex parents, or a death benefit for a surviving same-sex spouse or dependent child of a same-sex couple. Religiously-affiliated hospitals could deny visitation to a same-sex spouse or children of a same-sex married couple. Private employers could deny an employee the ability to take job-protected leave under the Family Medical Leave Act to care for a seriously ill same-sex spouse or that spouse’s child.

The order explicitly targets the child welfare system, barring the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services from taking action against adoption and foster-care agencies that discriminate or deny anyone service due to a conflict with the agency’s religious beliefs. LGBTQ youth are overrepresented in the child welfare system, and already struggle to find safe, affirming and loving homes before aging out of foster-care. Allowing agencies and individual providers to discriminate based on religious beliefs increases the life-threatening risk that an LGBTQ child could be deliberately placed with parents that advocate “conversion therapy.” This license to discriminate would also dramatically shrink the pool of qualified, adoptive parents available to all children in foster care, since data indicates that same-sex couples are six times more likely to be raising a foster child and four times more likely to be raising an adopted child than different-sex couples.

Responding to the leaked draft executive order, Family Equality Council CEO Rev. Stan J. Sloan said: “We join with our peers in the LGBTQ movement in making clear that this order is completely reprehensible. Make no mistake: if this order were enacted, it would have devastating effects on LGBTQ families and vulnerable LGBTQ youth across the country. To sew hatred and discrimination in the guise of religion is beyond hypocrisy, and it is a perversion of all that is sacred. Family Equality Council calls upon all Americans — religious and secular, LGBTQ and allies — to stand up and let our government know this type of action is unacceptable.”

Family Equality Council Chief Policy Officer, Emily Hecht-McGowan, stated: “The language in this draft executive order is based on a false choice: that we have to choose between religious freedom and LGBTQ civil rights. Nothing about this order, if passed, would make families — LGBTQ or not — stronger or children more secure. But the hard-won protections we have gained are critical and, in many cases lifesaving, to the LGBTQ community and we must stand together to protect them.”

* * *

About Family Equality Council

Family Equality Council connects, supports, and represents the three million parents who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer in this country today and their six million children of all ages. We are changing attitudes and policies to ensure that all families are respected, loved, and celebrated — including families with parents who are LGBTQ. We are a community of parents, children, grandparents, grandchildren and unattached youth that reaches across this country. For almost forty years we have raised our children and raised our voices toward fairness for all families. As we look to the next chapter of our work, we are also focused on LGBTQ youth needing families and the two million LGBTQ adults waiting to foster or adopt in our country.