Senate Democrats slam HHS reversal on non-discrimination protections

Senate Democrats slam HHS reversal on non-discrimination protections
© Greg Nash

Every Senate Democrat wants the Department of Health and Human Services to rescind a plan that would allow recipients of HHS grants and contracts to discriminate on the basis of religion and sex.

The entire caucus, led by Sens. Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayPelosi huddles with chairmen on surprise billing but deal elusive House approves two child care bills aimed at pandemic GOP, Democratic relief packages B apart on vaccine funding MORE (D-Wash.) and Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenSenate Democrats demand answers on migrant child trafficking during pandemic Hillicon Valley: Facebook removes Trump post | TikTok gets competitor | Lawmakers raise grid safety concerns Tensions flare as GOP's Biden probe ramps up  MORE (D-Ore.), signed onto the letter to HHS Secretary Alex Azar.

According to the senators, HHS annually awards more than $500 billion in taxpayer-funded grants and contracts.

ADVERTISEMENT

In November, the administration proposed a rule that would effectively end non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ individuals in HHS grant programs — most notably adoption centers and HIV prevention programs. 

The HHS proposal would remove Obama-era protections based on a wide variety of characteristics, including sex, race, religion, gender identity or sexual orientation. Instead, it would guarantee protections based only on current statute, which does not cover sexual orientation or gender identity.

The Trump administration has defended the move as part of its commitment to protect religious liberty. 

Supporters of the policy have argued that faith-based groups were forced to compromise their religion if they wanted to participate in a federally funded adoption and foster care program. 

For example, faith-based adoption and foster centers in states like South Carolina, Texas, Michigan and Pennsylvania have argued that working with gay, Jewish, lesbian or transgender parents is against their beliefs.

"It is unconscionable that HHS has disregarded essential nondiscrimination protections, chosen to no longer enforce them and has pursued a rollback of the very protections that ensure HHS funding benefits all people in an equitable way," the Democrats wrote.

“We strongly urge the Department to enforce existing federal nondiscrimination regulations that protect against discrimination based on sex and religion and rescind this proposed rule.”