LDS Church comes out against Equality Act, saying LGBTQ rights bill doesn’t ensure religious freedom

(Salt Lake Tribune file photo) Volunteers set up the UVU LGBT student services booth across the street from the Provo LDS Temple, at the 5th annual Provo Pride Festival, Saturday, September 16, 2017.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints issued a strong statement Monday opposing the Equality Act, a Democrat-led bill recently introduced in Congress aimed at encasing LGBTQ protections in federal law.

“When conflicts arise between religious freedom and LGBT rights, the church advocates a balanced ‘fairness for all’ approach that protects the most important rights for everyone while seeking reasonable, respectful compromises in areas of conflict,” the church’s news release reads. “... The Equality Act now before Congress is not balanced and does not meet the standard of fairness for all. While providing extremely broad protections for LGBT rights, the Equality Act provides no protections for religious freedom.”

The Utah-based faith, in its release, argues that the bill would revoke religious rights under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the 1993 law sponsored by then-Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, that created exemptions from federal laws if they were determined to infringe on a person’s religion.

The House is slated to take up the measure later this week. With 240 co-sponsors, including two Republicans, it is expected to pass.

The measure faces an uphill battle in the GOP-controlled Senate.

According to the Human Rights Campaign, an LGBTQ advocacy group supporting the bill, the Equality Act would amend current civil rights laws to include sexual orientation and gender identity as protected characteristics, alongside such factors as race and ethnicity. The act would cover employment, housing, education, public spaces and services, federally funded programs and jury service.

In 2015, Utah adopted a compromise measure protecting LGBTQ individuals from housing and employment discrimination, while providing some safeguards for religious liberty.

Rep. Ben McAdams, the lone Democrat in Utah’s federal delegation, is a sponsor of the Equality Act and says the Beehive State is a great example of securing legal protections against discrimination while also guaranteeing the free exercise of religion.

“As an active member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and someone who believes that protections for individuals and families with backgrounds and life circumstances different than mine is a core American and Christian value, I believe we must continue at the federal level the bridge-building dialogue we started in Utah,” McAdams said Monday.

“The Equality Act is another step in the direction we need to take, but we still have much to do,” McAdams added. “I have been a voice for religious values in this discussion, introducing an amendment clarifying protections under existing law for houses of worship and my letter to the bill's sponsor calling for dialogue on the questions and concerns from some religious organizations.”

Rep. John Curtis, R-Utah, said all people, including LGBTQ individuals, should be able to live their lives without fear of discrimination.

“At the same time, Congressman Curtis believes that there can and must be a balance between the rights of the LGBTQ community and religious liberty — one of the fundamental rights enshrined in the founding of our country,” Curtis spokeswoman Ally Riding said. “He believes these protections are not mutually exclusive and that LGBTQ equality and religious freedom are not a zero-sum game. As it stands, the Equality Act is not a good-faith effort at fairness and does not follow the lead of Utah’s historic compromise legislation, it is simply a political messaging exercise."

Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, also opposes the Equality Act.

“The bill, as written, fails to protect the rights of religious institutions,” Bishop said in a statement. “It cannot be supported unless an amendment can be added on the floor to provide a complete protection of religious liberty.”

Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, is against the measure as well. “If this legislation was really about equality," he said, “it would protect religious freedom.”

Clifford Rosky, a member of Equality Utah’s Advisory Council, said the church’s statement was “polarizing,” especially after all the joint efforts to pass the so-called Utah compromise four years ago. He said the country could learn something from Utah.

“We also agree we can protect LGBTQ people while protecting everyone’s constitutional right to freedom of religion,” Rosky said, adding that the federal bill embodies those principles. But to characterize the bill as the church did adds to the “kind of overblown rhetoric that doesn’t represent the collaborative process, the historic collaboration that led to the passage of anti-discrimination laws in Utah and does not serve the American people especially well.”

In its statement, the LDS Church said it “is on record favoring reasonable measures” to secure rights for LGBTQ people in “housing, employment and appropriate public accommodations.” At the same time, though, the statement said, “we urgently need laws that protect the rights of individuals and faith communities to freely gather, speak out publicly, serve faithfully and live openly according to their religious beliefs without discrimination or retaliation, even when those beliefs may be unpopular.”

Democrats are pushing forward on passing the Equality Act, one of a handful of bills they promised to advance as part of their agenda.

“LGBT Americans and their families deserve to be protected against all forms of discrimination no matter where they live,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said on the floor. “This legislation would ban discrimination against LGBT people in housing, employment, education, jury service, credit and financing and public accommodations.”

Conservative groups, meanwhile, are pushing back.

The Equality Act would force employers and workers to conform to new sexual norms or else lose their businesses and jobs,” the Heritage Foundation said in a statement.

The bill would also “force hospitals and insurers to provide and pay for these therapies against any moral or medical objections” and that the “politicization of medicine would ultimately harm families by normalizing hormonal and surgical interventions for gender dysphoric children as well as ideological ‘education’ in schools and other public venues,” the foundation said, adding that it would lead to the “erasure of women by dismantling sex-specific facilities, sports and other female-only spaces.”

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