- The Washington Times
Sunday, December 8, 2019

A group of House Republicans is backing legislation that would protect LGBTQ people from some forms of discrimination but also provide exceptions for religious groups.

The Fairness for All Act, introduced by Rep. Chris Stewart, Utah Republican, is based on legislation enacted in his home state that bans discrimination against LGBTQ people except for religious reasons. GOP co-sponsors include Reps. Mark Amodei and Rob Bishop of Utah, David Joyce of Ohio, Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, Mike Simpson of Idaho and Elise Stefanik of New York.

No Democrats have signed onto the legislation. Mr. Fitzpatrick also co-sponsored the Equality Act, which passed in the House in May with support from seven other Republicans, including Ms. Stefanik.

Like the Equality Act, the Fairness for All Act would add protections for LGBTQ people to the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which bans discrimination against minorities in employment, housing and public accommodations.

Unlike the Equality Act, Mr. Stewart’s bill would allow exemptions for people or groups with firmly held religious beliefs and protect the federal tax status of religious colleges, such as Brigham Young and Bethel universities.

“All of God’s children, regardless of sexual orientation or religion, deserve dignity, respect, and the right to pursue happiness,” Mr. Stewart said Friday. “This legislation allows us to settle the legal questions and get back to the business of loving our neighbors.”

In his announcement Friday, Mr. Stewart listed several groups that support his bill, including the Seventh-day Adventist Church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities.

“Without compromising the Orthodox Christian convictions held by Christian colleges and universities, Fairness for All underscores that all persons are created in the image of God, implying dignity, value, and worth,” said Shirley V. Hoogstra, president the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities.

The bill received almost immediate backlash Friday from civil rights groups that oppose religious exemptions that have protected a Colorado baker from making a wedding cake for a same-sex couple and the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, whose officials recently fired two male Catholic school teachers who married each other.

“The ‘Fairness for All’ Act is anything but fair, and it certainly does not serve all of us,” 17 rights groups, including the NAACP, the Transgender Law Center and the Human Rights Campaign, said Friday in a written statement. “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 with massive loopholes and carve-outs, and upends critical federal programs that serve children in need.”

The Fairness for All Act also would allow religiously affiliated adoption agencies to receive federal funding even if they refuse to adopt to same-sex couples.

The Equality Act bill has not received a vote in the Senate, where it has nearly 50 co-sponsors. Some Republicans have said it would protect LGBTQ people at the expense of people who oppose same-sex marriage on religious grounds. Other bill opponents have said it would erode athletic opportunities with women and girls who would be forced to compete with transgender athletes.

Touted as a compromise, the Fairness for All Act faces opposition from liberal and conservative groups. Nearly 90 groups — from Focus on the Family to The Gospel Coalition — have vowed to oppose the legislation.

Ryan T. Anderson, a researcher with Heritage Foundation, said Friday the bill would “allow the federal government to use our civil rights laws as a sword to punish citizens who dissent from the reigning sexual orthodoxy.”

• Christopher Vondracek can be reached at cvondracek@washingtontimes.com.

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