House Republicans Push Bill Aimed at Balancing LGBT Rights and Religious Freedom

Bill would codify LGBT, religious protections

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February 26, 2021

House Republicans are rallying around a compromise bill that would add protections for religious organizations in addition to granting discrimination protections to LGBT citizens. The bill comes one day after House Democrats passed the Equality Act, which critics say infringes on religious liberty rights and is likely to fail in the Senate.

Rep. Chris Stewart (R., Utah) introduced the legislation Friday, intending to strike a middle ground between protecting religious freedom and LGBT rights. The bill codifies protections for LGBT individuals against discrimination in housing, employment, and other public accommodations while also including exemptions for religious institutions and employers that are not explicitly present in the Equality Act.

"Americans shouldn't have to worry about losing their jobs or apartments because of who they are. By the same token, Americans shouldn't have to worry about losing their jobs or their apartments because of their sincerely held religious beliefs," Stewart said. "We have been too quick to label and dismiss each other over these issues. The right way out of this false dichotomy is to define protections for LGBT Americans and religious Americans in federal law."

The bill, which Stewart originally introduced in 2019, garnered 20 Republican cosponsors, including two Republicans who voted for the Equality Act, Reps. Tom Reed (N.Y.) and Brian Fitzpatrick (Pa.).

Democrats passed the Equality Act in a mostly party-line vote. Three Republicans crossed the aisle to vote for the legislation, which passed 224 to 206. The bill is likely to fail in the Senate, however, where it needs 10 Republican votes to overcome a potential filibuster.

Democrats appear unlikely to budge from pushing for the passage of the Equality Act, casting doubt on whether Congress can pass Stewart's compromise legislation. President Joe Biden signaled his support for the Democrats' legislation and called on Congress to pass the Equality Act immediately. Religious liberty groups criticized the bill for infringing on the rights of religious Americans.

"The Equality Act is a license for the government to discriminate against Americans who seek to live out their faith in their schools, businesses, and communities," said Kelly Shackelford, president of the First Liberty Institute. "It guts the promise of the First Amendment that Congress shall make no law prohibiting the free exercise of religion."

LGBT advocates, meanwhile, cheered the passage of the legislation as a landmark move by Congress to protect their rights.

"This has been a long time coming and it represents progress that for me was unbelievable growing up," Rep. Mondaire Jones (D., N.Y.), who is black and identifies as gay, said on the House floor. "Today we send a powerful message to millions of LGBTQ people around the country and indeed around the world that they are seen, that they are valued, that their lives are worthy of being protected."