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GOP rep offering bill protecting LGBTQ rights with religious exemptions

Utah Rep. Chris Stewart (R) is set to unveil legislation Friday with the goal of protecting 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, The Associated Press reported.

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.

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The proposal would reportedly 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 AP reported.

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.

The 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 the 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.

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Stewart said the legislation is a way to “bridge the gap” between outlawing discrimination and allowing protected religious freedoms.

“I don’t know many people who wake up and say ‘I want to discriminate’. Most people find that offensive,” Stewart told The AP. “There are people who, and I’m included among them, have religious convictions that put them in a bind about how to reconcile those two principles.” 

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 AP.

The Hill has reached out to Stewart’s office for comment. 

Updated at 8:45 a.m.

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