The Trump administration has finalized a rule axing years-old antidiscrimination policies in what is likely a final parting blow to the LGBTQ+ community.
Published in the Federal Register on Tuesday, the new directive from the Health and Human Services Department (HHS) will allow social service providers who receive funding from the federal government to discriminate based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
The ruling rescinds protections put in place when Barack Obama was president, which required federal agencies to refrain from discriminating on the basis of sex, religion, sexual orientation, or gender identity; it also forced grantees to recognize married same-sex couples as legitimate under the law.
HHS now says the Obama-era ruling does, in some circumstances, violate the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
“Given the careful balancing of rights, obligations, and goals in the public-private partnerships in federal grant programs, the Department believes it appropriate to impose only those nondiscrimination requirements required by the Constitution and federal statutes,” the rule states in part.
HHS initially announced the rule in November 2019, when it stopped enforcing antidiscrimination requirements for adoption agencies and other similar programs receiving federal funds. The department had received numerous requests from religious groups, sitting members of Congress, and private citizens asking them to review the Obama-era protections, many of whom pointed to possible First Amendment violations.
Under the revised rules, adoption agencies will be able to deny potential parents based on their sexual orientation, gender identity, or religious affiliation. The ruling will also impact health care for some in the LGBTQ+ community, as activists say companies will be able to deny employees health care based on gender identity.
The news was widely panned by activist organizations.
“Even as Trump administration officials abandon ship, HHS has announced yet another dangerous rule that invites discrimination against the very people federal grant programs are meant to help,” said Sasha Buchert, senior attorney civil rights group Lambda Legal, said in a prepared statement.
Religious freedom advocates, however, cheered the decision.
“Sadly, the prior administration’s regulation failed to protect all providers and discriminated against faith-based providers simply because of their beliefs about marriage. That is not keeping kids first,” Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Counsel Zack Pruitt wrote in a statement. “HHS’s final rule to end this discrimination offers hope for children, more options for birth mothers, support for families, and increased flexibility for states seeking to alleviate real human need. We commend the Trump administration for protecting a diversity of providers to ensure the greatest number of children find a permanent, loving family.”
While the Trump administration has already stopped enforcing the antidiscrimination policies, the revised ruling will formally take effect on Feb. 11 — and by that time, Joe Biden will be president.
Biden has pledged to undo much of the work the Trump administration made on rolling back protections for the LGBTQ+ community. Biden’s current plan to advance LGBTQ+ equality, which is published on the president-elect’s website, slams the incumbent president for leading a “systematic effort to undo the progress President Obama and Vice President Biden made” on equality.
“As President, Biden will stand with the LGBTQ+ community to ensure America finally lives up to the promise on which it was founded: equality for all,” the statement continues. “He will provide the moral leadership to champion equal rights for all LGBTQ+ people, fight to ensure our laws and institutions protect and enforce their rights, and advance LGBTQ+ equality globally.”