Rep. Ben McAdams joins Democrats in passing Equality Act; other Utahns in Congress vote no

Washington • Rep. Ben McAdams was the only Utahn in the House on Friday to support legislation expanding the Civil Rights Act to bar discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

The House passed the Democrat-led measure 236-173, with Utah GOP Reps. Rob Bishop, John Curtis and Chris Stewart opposing it.

The legislation, which is unlikely to get a vote in the GOP-controlled Senate and would face a veto from President Donald Trump if it passed, would prohibit discrimination against the LGBTQ community in housing, federal financing, education, jury duty or in the workforce.

The Utah-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints came out earlier this week against the bill.

McAdams, Utah’s only Democrat in Congress, took to the floor Friday morning to question Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., the sponsor of the Equality Act, which was numbered House Resolution 5.

“I want to confirm and clarify in our debate today that H.R. 5 does not change our nation's long-standing First Amendment rights to free religious exercise, speech and association,” McAdams said. “I understand that houses of worship will not be affected in their religious observances by the public accommodations provisions in H.R. 5.”

“Yes, that is correct,” Cicilline responded, noting that the bill “does not revise the exception for private establishments not open to the public, meaning houses of worship can continue their practices as before, including limiting admission or attendance to members of their faith.”

McAdams also asked Cicilline to explain that the measure wouldn’t force a faith to perform marriages, baptisms or other ceremonies for everyone.

The bill, Cicilline said, “does not nor could any legislation supersede the First Amendment.”

McAdams, who previously served as Salt Lake County mayor, a top lobbyist for Salt Lake City and state senator, worked with the Utah Legislature to accept the city’s anti-discrimination ordinances.

Democrats had made passing the Equality Act part of following through on promises offered in the 2018 election that handed the party control of the House. All Democrats voted for the bill, with eight Republicans breaking ranks to support it.

Most Republicans had fiercely fought against it, arguing it would harm religious liberties and ruin women's sports because men could say they identify with another gender and compete in female categories.

Stewart said on the House floor Friday morning that the idea of the bill is good but that it's badly written and does not protect religious organizations.

“Yes, of course we should treat each other with fairness and with dignity,” Stewart said. “I believe that all people in America should live their lives free of any discrimination. But we also have to defend the first freedom, the foundational liberty, the amendment, the principle upon which all other liberties are based.”

“People of faith, who are also good people, deserve to have the right to express their sincerely held religious beliefs without compulsion from the federal government. ... [The bill] makes no effort to find common ground. What a wasted opportunity.”

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints said Monday that while it advocates “fairness for all” between religious freedom and LGBT rights, the Equality Act “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 church said in a statement.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has signaled he has no intention of bring up the bill for a vote.

While Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, may not have to vote on the issue, he tweeted out his opposition to the Equality Act.

“Americans are becoming more tolerant every day, which is why the Equality Act is so counterproductive,” the senator tweeted. “It unnecessarily pits communities against each other and divides our nation when patience and understanding are so sorely needed.”