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Cruz Wants to Upend D.C. Laws on Contraception, Gay Rights

Ted Cruz has turned his attention to D.C. politics, introducing measures to keep religious colleges from having to fund gay and lesbian student groups and to upend a law on discrimination over reproductive health decisions.

U.S. Sen Ted Cruz gives a speech at the Iowa Freedom Summit in Des Moines, Iowa, on Jan. 24, 2015.

Editor's note: This story has been edited for length. 

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, a conservative torchbearer and potential presidential contender, turned his attention to local D.C. politics this week by introducing a measure in Congress to upend one new city law regarding discrimination over reproductive health decisions and another to keep religiously affiliated colleges in the nation’s capital from having to fund gay and lesbian student groups.

The measures, known as disapproval resolutions, could in theory halt local laws passed last year by the Washington, D.C. Council and signed by the city’s mayor. But to do so, Cruz’s measures would require support of both chambers of Congress and the signature of President Obama.

Although rarely successful at stopping D.C. laws, the resolutions are often more effective politically, giving members of Congress legislative records to build bona fides with constituent groups that feel strongly about the District’s often liberal stances on social issues.

On the two issues at hand, there are more than a few with strong feelings.

Last month, more than a dozen prominent conservative groups and Catholic institutions asked Capitol Hill leaders to overturn the two D.C. laws, calling them “unprecedented assaults upon our organizations.”

The laws would restrict the ability of private groups to discriminate based on religious beliefs. One, the Reproductive Health Non-Discrimination Amendment Act of 2014, would prevent employers from taking action against workers based on their decision to use birth control or seek an abortion. The other, the Human Rights Amendment Act of 2014, repeals a longstanding, congressionally imposed measure exempting religiously affiliated educational institutions from the city’s gay nondiscrimination law. 

As is the case for all D.C. laws, the two are now under a mandatory 30-day review period before Congress. Without congressional action, they could take effect as early as next month. That happened last month with the city’s marijuana-legalization law, when, despite threats from House Republicans, no lawmaker introduced a measure to stop it. Some Republicans feared a vote on marijuana legalization could expose a rift between conservative and libertarian wings of the party.

Asked about the measures Wednesday while walking through the U.S. Capitol, Cruz referred questions to his office, which did not immediately respond to a phone call and e-mail seeking comment.

In a statement, Kimberly Perry, head of D.C. Vote, an organization that lobbies for voting representation for the District in Congress, criticized the effort as counter to Republicans’ belief in greater states’ rights.

Perry called on “every other member of Congress to step up and see this for exactly what it is — un-American and un-democratic.”

Religious groups were more pleased. “These bills are serious violations of religious freedoms,” said Casey Mattox, senior counsel with the Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative Christian legal group. “We are pleased members of Congress are taking them seriously.”

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