Yes, you can protect religious freedom and equality for all simultaneously

The Fairness for All Act is a bill both LGBTQ Americans and faith-based groups can get behind

The Fairness for All Act would settle some of the most difficult conflicts in our society today, Stewart writes. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
The Fairness for All Act would settle some of the most difficult conflicts in our society today, Stewart writes. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted March 22, 2021 at 6:00am

Americans are overwhelmingly in agreement that every person deserves their chance at the American Dream, regardless of their race, religion or sexuality.

I recently reintroduced a bill that would move Congress — and America — toward greater unity and bipartisanship. The Fairness for All Act would do three things. First, it would comprehensively protect LGBTQ Americans in the Civil Rights Act. Second, it would comprehensively protect religious individuals and organizations. Third, it would safeguard the important and historical protections of our civil rights laws for racial and ethnic minorities, religious minorities, and women and girls.

Fairness for All would settle some of the most difficult conflicts in our society today. These issues are very personal to many of us. Even if they don’t directly affect you, they probably affect someone you love. Practically all of us know and love someone who is gay or transgender.

LGBTQ people are more likely to face unemployment and homelessness, but many people I talk to are surprised to discover that we don’t have a federal law protecting them. It is our duty, as patriotic Americans, to protect our fellow Americans, whether they live in rural or urban areas, red states or blue states, whatever our disagreements may be about religion, marriage, or gender.

But there is no reason for these legal protections for people who face discrimination and even violence because of who they are to be at odds with those who want to protect religious freedoms.

While my own Christian convictions compel me to see every human as a brother or sister, my experience with organized religion compels me to see the value that faith-based organizations offer to our country. That is why I wrote recently about how the First Amendment protects religious freedom as a “first freedom” and is fundamental to America’s strength.

Fairness for All would guarantee that while LGBTQ people will enjoy uniform and robust protections nationwide, so too will houses of worship, religious schools and religious charities, including those who partner with the federal government to deliver essential social services.

During the pandemic, a number of faith-based groups, including The Salvation Army and Catholic Charities, have led the response to the challenges before us, filling a void in our society at a critical time. Any law that protects LGBTQ Americans at the expense of these charitable organizations is missing the mark. Fairness for All would provide clear and balanced protections to make sure LGBTQ people receive the services they need, without fear of discrimination, while respecting our religiously vibrant and diverse society.

As a society, we are at a critical moment in deciding how to deal with these issues.

The next several months are key to whether we will succeed in passing Fairness for All or a similar measure. President Joe Biden, a religious man, supports a different LGBTQ rights bill, the Equality Act. But that bill does not address legitimate concerns around religious freedom that I and other conservatives share. That’s a missed opportunity and something the sponsors of the Equality Act need to wrestle with.

In the Senate, legislation like this requires 60 votes to pass, and as a recent Washington Post editorial noted, “Amendments might be needed to attract enough votes.” I would suggest senators in both parties look to Fairness for All for the solutions we need.

Utah, my home state, known for its strong religious communities, adopted a law similar to Fairness for All in 2015. It has been a tremendous success. The law has protected religious freedom while at the same time protecting the civil rights of LGBTQ Utahans. It passed the state Legislature with overwhelming bipartisan support, and recent polling has shown the law remains extremely popular with Democrats, Republicans and independents. In fact, conservative Utah is now tied with progressive Vermont in polls of public support for legal protections for LGBTQ people.

And the Utah economy is booming, partially since businesses know it is a welcoming place for all their employees, including those who are gay or transgender, and regardless of their religion. Religious organizations and charities aren’t wasting precious resources on lawsuits. LGBTQ groups can focus their resources on helping their members. It is a win for everyone.

The time is right for Congress to act and to establish Fairness for All nationwide.

Rep. Chris Stewart is a Republican representing Utah’s 2nd District. He serves on the Appropriations and Intelligence committees.