A Republican congressmember has introduced a bill that would legalize job discrimination against LGBTQ people from religious organizations as a compromised version of the Equality Act.
Rep. Chris Stewart (R-UT) – who voted against the Equality Act yesterday – introduced his Fairness For All Act (FFAA), which contains large religious exemptions that would allow organizations that discriminate against LGBTQ people to still receive taxpayer dollars. The bill currently has 21 Republican co-sponsors but no Democratic co-sponsors, despite Stewart’s promises from earlier this week that his bill would have bipartisan support.
“It is hard to love our neighbors when we are fighting with them over whose rights are more important,” Stewart said in a press release. “This country can accommodate both civil liberties for LGBT individuals and religious freedom.”
That’s a big promise, considering there are people who claim that “religious freedom” means the freedom to take away LGBTQ people’s rights.
The FFAA would add sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of protected classes in federal civil rights law. But there are some major differences:
- The FFAA targets LGBTQ people for discrimination in schools by stating that religious schools can discriminate against LGBTQ people but not on the basis of “race, color, or national origin.”
- The Equality Act specifies that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) cannot be used to deny someone their civil rights, but the FFAA does not say that. So the FFAA would allow employers, landlords, businesses, and others accused of discrimination to argue that they deserve a religious exemption to civil rights protections in court.
- The FFAA exempts businesses with fewer than 15 employees from the Equality Act’s expansion of public accommodations protections.
For example, an adoption agency could receive federal money and the ability to place children – including LGBTQ children – exclusively with straight, Christian conservative parents. If they’re the only agency in an area, then potential LGBTQ parents and kids would be out of luck, and the federal government would still be required to fund this operation under Stewart’s law.
According to the Washington Blade‘s Chris Johnson, Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI) – who sponsored the Equality Act – said that the FFAA could make things worse for LGBTQ people than the status quo. This is because the Supreme Court ruled last year in Bostock v. Clayton Co. that Title VII’s ban on discrimination “because of sex” includes anti-LGBTQ discrimination, and the FFAA’s religious exemptions could chip away at those protections.
Rep. Cicilline told me this week the Fairness for All Act would be “worse than nothing” because of the carve outs.
Cicilline added he “would hope” supporters of LGBTQ rights don’t back it when I asked if it was OK for Democrats to co-sponsor.
— Chris Johnson (@chrisjohnson82) February 26, 2021
The FFAA is opposed by both pro- and anti-LGBTQ organizations.
“Like the Equality Act, this bill would overhaul our federal civil rights framework and leave many to suffer the consequences, including women, children, medical professionals, and people of faith,” said the Family Research Council in an email blast today. “While FFA does include some attempts to preserve religious liberty, these attempts are feeble and provide little if any actual protection.”
Hate groups like the Alliance Defending Freedom, the Family Research Council, and the American College of Pediatricians also oppose the bill.
And LGBTQ advocates aren’t warming up to it, partly because the Equality Act is already the middle ground in the debate, since it is a neutral law that people of all religious beliefs will have to follow.
“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,” said HRC’s President Alphonso David the last time the FFAA was introduced.
Stewart said in his press release that he has support from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the American Unity Fund, the Center for Public Justice, the 1st Amendment Partnership, the Seventh-day Adventist Church, and the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities.
Moreover, Stewart predicts that Congressional leaders will take the FFAA more seriously if the Equality Act fails in the Senate, where Republicans are expected to be staunchly opposed to it and 60 votes will be required to pass it under the Senate’s current rules.
“I don’t think this will pass in the Senate and that opens up the opportunity for Fairness for All,” Stewart said earlier this week.
He even promised earlier this week that he had “bipartisan support for this. It’s not just a Republican idea. It’s not just a conservative idea. There’s some of our Democratic colleagues who are going to join us on that and once they see that they’re not going to force this on the Senate, that opens the door to look at an alternative.”
But today he introduced the bill without a single Democratic co-sponsor, showing that he wasn’t able to get Democrats to support his compromise bill this time, perhaps because the Bostock decision happened in 2020 and now his bill will make things worse for LGBTQ people with religious employers.
Others worry that the FFAA could derail the Equality Act in the Senate. If moderate Republicans believe that voting against the Equality Act could lead to the House passing the FFAA, they might be more inclined to reject the Equality Act’s anti-discrimination protections.
Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) has said that he will not vote for the Equality Act because it would ban religious people from discriminating against LGBTQ people.