By Matt Dunning, Crain News Service
WASHINGTON (Sept. 24, 2013) — A bill introduced Sept. 19 in the U.S. House of Representatives could give private, for-profit companies license to deny legally married same-sex couples the employment benefits and rights recently extended to them by federal regulators.
The Marriage and Religious Freedom Act would prohibit the federal government from taking adverse action against individuals and organizations for acting in accordance with their religious beliefs that marriage is between one man and one woman.
Under the proposed law, regulatory agencies would be barred from denying or revoking tax exemptions from organizations that refuse to comply with state and federal laws recognizing same-sex marriages as valid for moral or religious reasons. Additionally, the law would protect those organization and individuals from being excluded from federal grants, contracts, cooperative agreements, loans, licenses and certifications, accreditations and employment.
In the months since the Supreme Court's decision, the Obama administration has extended eligibility to legally married same-sex couples for rights and benefits guaranteed under the U.S. Tax Code, the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, and the Family and Medical Leave Act.
'Importance of religious liberty'
Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, the bill's chief sponsor, said in a statement on Sept. 19 that the proposed law was designed primarily to protect religious institutions and nonprofit organizations from regulatory discrimination, as well as potential civil lawsuits after the U.S. Supreme Court's overturn of Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act.
"Regardless of your ideology, we can all agree about the importance of religious liberty in America," Mr. Labrador said in the statement. "Our bill will ensure tolerance for individuals and organizations that affirm traditional marriage, protecting them from adverse federal action."
While the bill's primary aim might have been the protection of religious institutions and nonprofit organizations, a spokesman for Mr. Labrador's office confirmed on Sept. 20 that its current language would extend those protections to private, for-profit companies.
The proposed law would prohibit the federal government from taking adverse action or "otherwise discriminating" against any "person" for adhering to religious restrictions against same-sex marriage. According to the bill's current language, the term "person" would be defined for the purposes of this bill using the existing definition of the term under Sec. 1, Title 1 of the U.S. Code, "and includes any person regardless of religious affiliation or lack thereof, and regardless of for-profit or nonprofit status."
The U.S. Code definition of the word "person" includes corporations, companies, associations, firms, partnerships, societies, and joint stock companies, as well as individuals.
Because the phrase "otherwise discriminating" is not specifically defined, it is unclear if the proposed law would prohibit federal enforcement actions against employers that choose for religious or moral reasons not to comply with the recently updated regulations guaranteeing certain employment benefits to legally married same-sex couples.
Mr. Labrador's office did not respond immediately to a request for further clarification on the matter.
This report appeared in Business Insurance magazine, a Chicago-based sister publication of Tire Business.