Rep. Bob Dold has become the the first Republican lawmaker to cross party lines and back equal rights legislation for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.
Dold (R-Ill.), who is facing a tough reelection race in a swing district this year, announced he is backing the Equality Act in a statement shared first with The Hill.
"Illinois has a long and proud history of fighting for equal rights, and I am proud to continue this tradition by supporting the Equality Act. Engraved on the front of the Supreme Court is the phrase 'equal justice under the law,' but as long as any Americans can be legally discriminated against, there is not equal justice in this country," Dold said.
"Congress must act to ensure that all Americans, including the LGBT community, are protected equally from discrimination under federal law, just as they already are in my home state of Illinois."
Dold added that while the bill is "not perfect in its current form, it marks an important first step in the process of crafting a bipartisan bill that ensures equal rights for all Americans while also fully protecting the religious freedoms our Constitution guarantees."
The Illinois Republican's endorsement of the legislation comes as he seeks to hold onto his seat in one of the few swing districts left in the country. He first won election in 2010, only to be unseated by Brad Schneider (D). Schneider served in Congress for two years before losing to Dold in 2014 but is mounting a comeback bid.
The district is a toss-up, according to the Cook Political Report's rankings.
The Equality Act had 171 co-sponsors before Dold signed on, while the Senate version has 39 Democratic sponsors. The only non-Democrats to sign on are Sens. Bernie Sanders (Vt.) and Angus King (Maine), both Independents.
The bill aims to amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964, passed in the wake of the civil rights movement, to include sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of groups protected from discrimination.
Advocates, including all three Democratic presidential candidates, argue that the LGBT community still faces substantial discrimination including the prospect of being fired or kicked out of their homes because of their identity.
But the measures have been assailed by critics from the rights who argue that the policies encroach on freedom of religion and could force people to act counter to their religious beliefs.
Chad Griffin, the president of the LGBT civil rights group Human Rights Campaign, lauded Dold for backing the legislation.
"Bob Dold is showing tremendous leadership today by becoming the first Republican to sign on as a co-sponsor of the Equality Act and we’re thrilled that he’s standing up for our fundamental values of fairness and equality,” Griffin said in a statement.
“Far too many LGBT people — nearly two thirds — have faced unfair and unjust discrimination in their lives, much of it in the workplace. In co-sponsoring the Equality Act, Congressman Dold showed how important it is that LGBT people be able to have a fair chance to earn a living, provide for their families, and live free from fear of discrimination.”
This story was updated at 10:38 a.m.