Rep. Chris Stewart (R-UT), a former Mormon missionary and author of several best-selling religious-themed books, introduced the “Fairness for All Act” on Dec. 6. The bill was put forward as a compromise to the Equality Act that passed the House in June with some bipartisan support. The Equality Act has been awaiting ratification by the Senate. The Equality Act would “prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex, gender identity and sexual orientation.”
Fairness for all Act sponsors claim that it protects both LGBTQ people and religious liberty. But immediately after Stewart’s announcement, LGBTQ advocacy groups, as well as leaders in the faith community, objected to the proposed bill, with both sides claiming the bill does not protect their interests.
“This legislation allows us to settle the legal questions and get back to the business of loving our neighbors,” Stewart said in a press conference outside the Capitol Dec. 6. “There’s enough goodness in people that we can find a compromise that will protect basic human rights, reduce the stress, reduce the strife, and, at the same time, protect basic civil liberties of religious freedom.”
According to House Republicans, “The Fairness for All Act would ban discrimination against gay and transgender Americans in most areas of public life, while also protecting a variety of religious organizations and individuals with traditional, faith-based views on marriage and gender identity.”
Advocacy organizations, as well as religious groups, disagree with the need for and tenets of the bill.
The proposed bill was rejected in a detailed and strongly-worded statement from more than a dozen advocacy groups, including the ACLU, HRC, NAACP, GLAAD, Lambda Legal, PFLAG and others. The full statement was posted on the Human Rights Campaign’s website.
The statement reads in part, “The ‘Fairness for All Act’ is anything but fair, and it certainly does not serve all of us. It is an affront to existing civil rights protections that protect people on the basis of race, sex, and religion and creates new, substandard protections for LGBTQ people.”
The statement also asserts, “This legislation is deeply dangerous for many reasons, mainly because it would erode protections that already exist for people based on race, sex and religion, rolling back protections that have been on the books for decades. It would expand the number of places and situations in which lawful discrimination could occur.”
The statement also contends the Fairness for All Act “would introduce new, problematic provisions purportedly seeking to prohibit discrimination based on sex, sexual orientation and gender identity with broad exemptions, essentially licensing discrimination against LGBTQ people and women.”
Alphonso David, president of HRC, said in a statement, “For LGBTQ people living at the intersection of multiple marginalized identities, this bill is a double whammy of dangerous rollbacks and discriminatory carve-outs. This bill is both wrong and harmful, and we strongly oppose it.”
Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI), lead sponsor of the Equality Act, who worked tirelessly to bring the legislation up for a vote, released a statement, saying, “This bill does not protect LGBTQ people. Instead, it codifies discrimination.”
Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, (D-PA), one of only eight Republicans to support the Equality Act, was unequivocal in a statement from his office to PGN.
“Rep. Fitzpatrick remains firmly behind the Equality Act, which he has co-led with his colleague and friend Rep. David Cicilline. Moreover, the Congressman will support any new measures that advance the cause of LGBTQ equality in a bipartisan manner.”
Fitzpatrick’s statement added, “It is the ultimate goal of Congressman Fitzpatrick to achieve 100 percent LGBTQ equality and to make this a bipartisan universal norm. In order to do this, we must bring everyone to the table, to build bridges, and to change hearts and minds as well as our laws.”
Lauren Cox, Deputy Communications Director for the Office of the Mayor, told PGN, “We have a strong law in Philadelphia that protects LGBTQ+ people from discrimination in employment, public accommodation, and housing, but those safeguards do not exist everywhere. Having a comprehensive federal law that covers all LGBTQ+ individuals throughout the country would be the best way to standardize protections and to end the patchwork of rights that has been created throughout the country.”
Cox added, “A bill with broad exemptions would leave far too many people at risk. The Equality Act was already passed in the House with some bipartisan support. LGBTQ+ Americans should not have their rights limited because the U.S. Senate refuses to take a vote on that bill.”
On Dec. 9, the ACLU issued a statement which reads in part, “The bill facilitates the Trump administration’s ongoing efforts to give a green light to those who would turn LGBTQ people away from jobs, housing, healthcare, even tax-payer funded programs, simply because of who they are. The bill also weakens some longstanding protections in federal and state laws for everyone, not just LGBTQ people.”
Among the many objections by religious and other conservative groups to the Fairness for All Act was a statement from Ryan T. Anderson, a senior research fellow with The Heritage Foundation. Anderson said, “Its protections for religious liberty come at the high cost of enshrining a misguided sexual and gender ideology into federal law.”
Tyler Deaton, senior advisor at the American Unity Fund, a conservative LGBTQ rights organization, said in a statement, “What we are hoping to do, now that the bill has been introduced, is to start to have a broader public discussion. And to do that, we need to have a piece of legislation, and we need to launch this coalition formally.”
Shannon Minter, legal director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, said in a statement that NCLR does not support the bill, “but views its introduction as a milestone.”
Minter said, “Many LGBTQ people have experienced devastating harms in the name of religion, so it is no surprise that some LGBTQ groups are reacting to the bill with initial skepticism and concern.”
He added, “The only remedy for that mistrust is to continue the hard work of building bridges and engaging in the difficult conversations that we must have as a country in order to resolve our differences and secure freedom and equality for all.”