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Conservative Christian leader expects Trump to advance 'religious liberties' on gay rights through executive order

Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council
Tom Williams | CQ Roll Call | Getty Images
Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council

A prominent conservative Christian leader on Tuesday expressed confidence that President Donald Trump will still take executive action to uphold "religious liberty" despite a White House statement that the president will uphold existing protections against "anti-LGBTQ workplace discrimination" by federal contractors.

"I think this is going to be addressed," said Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council. Proponents of "religious liberty" argue that religiously oriented workplaces should be allowed to consider a person's sexual orientation in doing business.

Rumors swirled in Washington during the opening days of the Trump administration that an executive order concerning gay rights would be part of the opening rush of White House action. Conservatives prepared to applaud it after eight years of former President Barack Obama's administration, while gay-rights activists made plans to add it to the list of causes generating anti-Trump protests from the left.

The White House appeared to dismiss the possibility and embrace an earlier directive from Obama in a Monday night statement. "The executive order signed in 2014, which protects employees from anti-LGBTQ workplace discrimination while working for federal contractors, will remain intact at the direction of President Donald J. Trump," the statement said.

Yet Perkins said the statement does not preclude a new executive order protecting religious organizations from "having to change their views on human sexuality and marriage" while holding contracts with the federal government. Though he notes that he hasn't "gotten complete clarity," he said, "I have every confidence" that President Trump will act along the lines of a proposal offered previously by Republican Rep. Steve Russell of Oklahoma to exempt "any religious corporation, religious association, religious education institution or religious society" with a federal contract from Obama's directive.

Perkins' adversaries who back gay rights share his expectation.

Winnie Stachelberg of the liberal Center for American Progress said she continues to anticipate an executive order mirroring Russell's proposal, which she said could grant some taxpayer-funded adoption agencies the right to refuse placing children with same-sex couples. "This would be a severe blow to the LGBT community," Ms. Stachelberg said. "A license to discriminate … and a step backward."