Minnesota Senator Al Franken was among the handful of Democrats who grilled Attorney General Jeff Sessions on his record on LGBT rights.
The senators questioned Sessions during a 5-hour Senate Judiciary committee hearing on Capitol Hill on Wednesday. They repeatedly pressed Sessions on whether the Department of Justice under his leadership was encouraging discrimination. Sessions denied the accusation.
The DOJ has said that it does not believe that the Civil Rights Act protects on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, a departure from the Obama administration.
Sessions responded that he issued the orders to “follow the law” as he had “promised to do.”
Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois also questioned Sessions, asking whether the agency's recent guidance on religious liberty would allow federal employees and contractors to discriminate against the LGBT community.
“Under the guidance you released to all executive departments on religious liberty, let me ask you this question: Could a Social Security Administration employee refuse to accept or process spousal or survivor benefits paperwork for a surviving same-sex spouse?” Durbin asked.
After a 4-second pause, Sessions said that he did not have an answer. “That is something I have never thought would arise, but I would have to give you a written answer to that, if you don't mind,” he responded.
Would the guidance permit a federal contractor to “refuse to provide services to LGBTQ people, including emergencies, without risk of losing federal contracts?” Durbin asked.
“I'm not sure that is covered by it, but I will look,” Sessions said.
The Justice Department has also injected itself in a case before the Supreme Court, siding with a Colorado baker who refused to serve a gay couple.
“There's an argument to be made that no Trump administration official has done more to hurt LGBT people than you,” Franken told Sessions.