GOP lawmaker offering bill protecting LGBTQ rights with religious exemptions

Utah Rep. Chris Stewart (R) is set to unveil legislation Friday to protect LGBTQ+ individuals from discrimination while allowing religious exemptions for organizations to act on their beliefs.

The bill, called the Fairness for All Act, will reportedly protect LGBTQ+ people from discrimination in housing, employment, education and other public services.

But the legislation also designates religious exemptions for organizations to act on beliefs that may exclude the LGBTQ+ community. It has received support from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

The proposal would allow religious organizations like churches and schools to employ only those who align with their guidelines, in addition to prohibiting religious groups that oppose same-sex marriage from having their tax-exempt status revoked.

The legislation would also make it illegal for an employer to fire someone for being gay or for a landlord to make a tenant leave for being transgender, the Deseret News reported. It would also add sexual orientation and gender identity protections to federal civil rights laws.

“Religious freedom and LGBT rights don’t have to be in a lose-lose battle for protections in America,” Stewart said in a statement to The Hill.

“One of the great things about this country is that we keep improving and moving toward better outcomes. All of God’s children, regardless of sexual orientation or religion, deserve dignity, respect, and the right to pursue happiness,” he added. “This legislation allows us to settle the legal questions and get back to the business of loving our neighbors.” 

But his proposed law has not received support from Democratic lawmakers who have championed the Equality Act, anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination legislation that was passed by the House earlier this year.

The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) strongly criticized Stewart’s bill in a statement to The Hill, calling for lawmakers to support the Equality Act to protect LGBTQ+ people. 

“The so-called Fairness for All Act is an unacceptable, partisan vehicle that erodes existing civil rights protections based on race, sex and religion, while sanctioning discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) people,” HRC President Alphonso David said. 

“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,” he continued.

Although 21 states have laws that bar employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, there is no federal act barring it. The Supreme Court is currently considering multiple cases that could pioneer protections for the LGBTQ+ community. 

“We have taken back the religious liberty principle from extremists who I think do want to do harm to LGBTQ people and minority rights,” Tyler Deaton, a senior adviser to the American Unity Fund, a nonprofit supporting Stewart’s bill that builds conservative support for LGBTQ+ rights, told the Associated Press.

Updated at 2:18 p.m.

Tags Chris Stewart LGBTQ discrimination

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