Media Advisory: Federal Executive Order Providing Religious Exemptions Would Allow Discrimination Against LGBT People

Media Advisory:
May 2, 2017

Media Contact:
Noel Alumit, alumit@law.ucla.edu
Office: 310-794-2332

Federal Executive Order Providing Religious Exemptions Would Allow Discrimination Against LGBT People
Order Could Impact Hundreds of Thousands of LGBT People, Including Tens of Thousands of LGBT Youth in Foster Care and Same-Sex Couples Seeking to Foster or Adopt

Los Angeles – A federal executive order carving out broad religious exemptions to existing laws and policies could provide sweeping protections for employers, service providers, and others that discriminate against LGBT people.  News sources are reporting that the Trump Administration is considering signing such an executive order on Thursday, May 4, 2017.  The Williams Institute, an academic research center that studies sexual orientation and gender identity law and policy, is providing this media advisory to assist in reporting on this story.  Williams Institute scholars are available for comment.

A version of a religious exemption executive order circulated on February 1, 2017 would have prohibited the federal government from withholding grants, contracts, or federal benefits from entities that discriminate against LGBT employees or beneficiaries based on religious objection—a belief that being LGBT is immoral or inconsistent with religious doctrine.

Such an executive order could potentially impact thousands of same-sex couples seeking to adopt or foster children, tens of thousands of LGBT youth in foster care, and hundreds of thousands of LGBT workers employed by federal contractors and the federal government.

Same-Sex Couples Seeking to Adopt or Foster Children

A religious exemption executive order could allow federally-funded religious organizations providing child welfare services to decline adoption and foster services to same-sex couples.  Williams Institute research shows that many same-sex couples adopt and foster children, and are more likely to do so than different-sex couples:

  • Nearly 27,000 same-sex couples are raising an estimated 58,000 adopted and foster children in the U.S.
  • Same-sex couples are three times more likely than different-sex couples to be raising an adopted or foster child.

A religious exemption order could limit opportunities for family formation among same-sex couples, and leave many children without a foster placement or permanent home.

LGBT Youth in Foster Care

A religious exemption executive order could also allow religious organizations providing child welfare services to decline to serve LGBT youth.  Williams Institute research finds that LGBT youth are greatly overrepresented in the foster system; for example, in Los Angeles, LGBT youth make up 20 percent of the youth population in care, compared to only 8 percent of the general youth population.  Of the 400,000 children currently in foster care, an estimated 80,000 are LGBT.

LGBT Employees of Federal Contractors

Over 20 percent of the U.S. workforce – 28 million people – are employed by federal contractors.  Under an executive order issued by former President Obama in 2014, federal contractors are prohibited from discriminating against their employees based on sexual orientation or gender identity.  A religious exemption executive order could limit the scope of the 2014 order, allowing contractors to discriminate against LGBT employees based on their religious beliefs without losing their contracts.

The Williams Institute estimated that as a result of the 2014 executive order, 11 million workers, including 400,000 LGBT employees, gained protections from discrimination based on their sexual orientation and gender identity.  These 11 million employees did not have protections from sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination under a corporate policy or state law before the order was issued.

A religious exemption order could potentially strip an important source of legal protections from many LGBT workers of federal contractors, including workers who are not otherwise protected from discrimination under state non-discrimination laws or corporate policies.

LGBT Federal Employees

A religious exemption executive order could open the door for harassment and discrimination against LGBT people who work for the executive branch.  An estimated 64,000 LGBT people are federal civil service employees.

Services Provided to Same-Sex Couples

A religious exemption executive order could open the door for denial of services and discrimination against same-sex married couples.  There are over 500,000 married same-sex couples in the United States.

Access to Health Care

A religious exemption executive order could limit federal regulations that protect LGBT people from discrimination in health care, including by hospitals, insurers, and other providers.  There are over 10 million LGBT adults in the United States.  In particular, the over 1.4 million transgender adults in the U.S. would be vulnerable to discrimination in health care and denial of services under such an order.

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