For the National Republican Party, this question gives us the chance to do good, win back millions of voters we’ve alienated, and move on to other important areas where we still have morals.
Some Republican agents think they better keep fighting on this crop war front, and many Democratic agents think the same. The partisan vote in the House reflects a reluctance – on both sides – to negotiate. But gay and trans rights aren’t the problem they started out with. Times have changed and the Republicans’ best bet now is to reach a negotiated peace with the other party.
Democrats know that the current version of the Equality Act could never be passed in the Senate in its current form. And it may seem that in today’s environment, common ground is out of reach. But senators from both parties have no chance of presenting themselves as reasonable unless they make a good faith effort to reach an agreement. Democrats cannot overcome this hurdle unless they treat Republicans like Susan Collins or Lisa Murkowski, as well as conservative Democrat Joe Manchin, fairly. As for Republicans, they must be prepared to support an alternative rather than just saying ‘no’.
For religious conservatives, and by extension Republicans who represent many of them, the problem with the current bill is that it appears to threaten their religious freedom and fails to adequately address the concerns of the former. amendment. They cannot support legislation that would jeopardize their operations, including the vital social services they provide in underserved communities across the country.
Several states have enacted laws similar to the Equality Act in recent years, but still with protections for religious freedom. For example, Rhode Island has a strong anti-discrimination law with reasonable protections for religious groups. These protections ensure that Catholic social services – and any other religious group – can continue to provide valuable services in the state.
Likewise, Utah’s success in passing anti-discrimination legislation offers a way forward. Although its state government is controlled by Republicans at all levels, Utah has some of the strongest protections for gay and transgender people in the country. In 2015, with the support of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and state LGBTQ leaders, the Utah Republican legislature passed a comprehensive non-discrimination bill with reasonable protections for religious organizations.
I worked on the campaign to pass it and found that Republicans were much more open to gay rights if a bill simply respected those protections, and that Democrats could support it as well. It was a fair result that both sides appreciated. As a result, the law enjoyed wide support among the public. Utah residents are tied with Vermont for second rate of support for protections against LGBTQ discrimination.
In Congress, instead of working on such a deal, many Democrats are standing up and falsely claiming that they can pass the Equality Act as it is currently drafted. Rhode Island Rep. David Cicilline, for example, has never complained about religious exemptions in his own state’s anti-discrimination laws, but for some reason he draws a line in the sand at the federal level, denouncing everything effort to provide similar exemptions. in the Equality Act. Meanwhile, most Republicans are complaining about these missing provisions without offering their support for a bill that included such guarantees.
Utah should serve as a role model for Democrats and Republicans in the Senate. The Fairness for All Act, an alternate version of the Equality Act, is modeled on the popular law of Utah. Republicans in the Senate should introduce this bill and use its language to amend the equality law.
Republican lawmakers’ support for these types of changes would offer religious conservatives a wider victory also: perhaps surprisingly, the best and perhaps the only way to secure strong protections for religious freedom nationwide is to accept protections against LGBTQ discrimination, codifying an expansion of civil rights for the religion as well as protections for sex, sexual orientation and gender identity.
The move would also help Republicans regain some of the ground they have lost with voters in recent years. Opinion polls show that support for LGBTQ civil rights continues to rise, particularly in more educated suburban neighborhoods.
With public support at sky-high levels, some version of the Equality Act will eventually be passed. The question is: which version? And will Republicans take the opportunity to shape it?
Religious conservatives should seize this chance now to influence the process before the culture turns even more resolutely against them on LGBTQ issues. By making peace on this issue, religious conservatives could gain the legal protections they want while showing themselves to be decent and reasonable people, which earns them the political goodwill for any future disagreements that may arise and allows lawmakers move on to urgent issues like the crushing of the federal debt, defeat of the coronavirus, unaccompanied minors at the border, human rights violations by the Chinese Communist Party, crumbling infrastructure and energy independence.
Responsible legislation is at hand, but you can’t win if you don’t play. Reaching a resolution on these issues is better for people of faith, better for LGBTQ people, and better for the country. Republicans should sit down with Democrats and insist on a deal that works for both sides. Common ground is possible.