June 2019 Church & State Magazine | People & Events

Americans United on May 8 announced its support for the Equality Act, groundbreaking legislation pending in Congress that, if passed, will offer long overdue protections for LGBTQ Americans from dis­crim­­ination and intolerance. It will also ensure that religious  freedom is not misused to create loopholes that would ultimately undermine these protections.

The Equality Act (H.R. 5) would affirm and clarify that existing protections from sex discrimination in federal law include protections based on people’s sexual orientation and gender identity – and make it clear that religion cannot be misused to justify discrimination.

The act would provide clear, consistent protections nationwide across key areas of life, including employment, housing, credit, education, public spaces and services, federally funded programs and jury service.

The proposed legislation would close longstanding gaps in existing civil rights laws by barring sex discrimination by federally funded programs and businesses open to the public, and it would expand protections against discrimination on the basis of race, religion and national origin in public spaces.

Critically, the act contains language ensuring that its provisions can’t be overridden by the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). Passed in 1993, RFRA is a federal law that was intended to protect religious freedom, especially for religious minorities. It has since been misinterpreted and misused to justify harmful religious exemptions that allow discrimination against the LGBTQ community, women and religious minorities.

The Equality Act affirms that religion does not give businesses, employers, schools, landlords and others a license to discriminate. Passing the act would be a major step forward in stopping the Religious Right’s aggressive agenda to redefine and weaponize “religious freedom.”

In a media statement, Rachel Laser, AU president and CEO, outlined the organization’s support for the act.

“Today, despite our country’s recent strides toward equality, LGBTQ people are still vulnerable to discrimination that affects their safety, families, livelihood and daily experiences,” Laser said. “This is true for two main reasons: the patchwork of current laws doesn’t provide adequate protections, and where such protections do exist, opponents of equality have too often succeeded in claiming a right to discriminate in the name of ‘religious freedom.’  

“The Equality Act provides critical and comprehensive protections for LGBTQ people, while simultaneously ensuring that religious freedom cannot be misused to create loopholes that would ultimately undermine these protections. In doing so, it sets a strong precedent that would put a stop to the Religious Right’s weap­onization of religious freedom to advance their regressive political agenda.”

Concluded Laser, “The Equality Act establishes long overdue equal protection under the law for LGBTQ people. AU is proud to join the broad coalition of national and state organizations, faith leaders, businesses and members of Congress that is pushing this landmark legislation forward in an effort to ensure freedom and equality for all.”

As this issue of Church & State was going to press, the House passed the Equality Act 236-173.