Chris Stewart

Chris Stewart

The “Fairness for All Act,” proposed by Utah Congressman Chris Stewart is an attempt to craft a compromise between LGBTQ civil rights and religious liberty, which have been in conflict for several years over whether religious individuals and businesses can be compelled to perform services that conflict with their religious beliefs.

“This legislation aims to protect everyone’s dignity in public spaces,” says Stewart in a release. “It harmonizes religious freedom and LGBT rights by amending the Civil Rights Act, protecting religious freedom in the workplace, protecting the rights of LGBT individuals, and preserving 1st Amendment rights.”

Perhaps the most well-known such case was Masterpiece Cakeshop, in which a Christian baker refused to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding. He won the case, which went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, but he and Masterpiece Cakeshop have been sued twice more on a related issue, of refusing to bake a “gender-reassignment” cake. Whether that’s harassment or persistence depends on one’s point of view, but it illustrates the acrimony inherent in right vs. right.

The back story began in 1964 with passage of the Civil Rights Act, designed to protect people from racial discrimination. It outlaws discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin. Later amendments prohibited discrimination based on age, pregnancy or disability, In May of 2019, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the “Equality Act” which would amend the Civil Rights Act by adding sexual identity and gender orientation as protected classes. It has since languished in the Senate with little hope of passage.

Is there a compromise that would be acceptable to all, or perhaps disliked equally by both sides? The Fairness for All Act would carve out religious liberty exemptions thus protecting LGBTQ rights as well as religious rights.

But not so fast.

Both sides have issues with the bill. Conservative publications have pointed out that a special exemption “allowing religious persons to practice their beliefs,” assumes that people need government’s permission for religious liberty, something already guaranteed in the Bill of Rights. “Religious Americans aren’t obligated to ask for state exemptions to practice their faith any more than journalists are obligated to ask for state exemptions to practice free speech,” said an article in the National Review. “If anything, religious institutions most need protection from lawmakers. It’s the state, after all, that wants to compel Catholics to perform abortions. It’s the state that wants to coerce business owners to participate in gay weddings. It’s the state that wants to force nuns to buy abortifacients.”

And the bill has critics on the LGBTQ side as well. “The so-called Fairness for All Act is an unacceptable, partisan vehicle that erodes existing civil rights protections based on race, sex and religion,” said Human Rights Campaign President Alphonso David to Vox Media, “while sanctioning discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) people … this bill is a double whammy of dangerous rollbacks and discriminatory carve-outs.”

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints supports the bill, as does the. Seventh-Day Adventist Church which said: “The Fairness for All Act, which was introduced into the U.S. House of Representatives on December 6, is a proposed law that rejects the bitter, polarized approach that has long dominated public discussion about these issues.”

So if the bill has the backing of a number of churches who are tired of the wrangling but is opposed by a number of conservatives, the LGBTQ community should take another look at this bill. The options are to continue to fight it out in the courts and possibly lose it all, push to have the definition of “sex” in the original 1964 Act broadened to include gender and identity issues, which seems to be the current strategy, or look for a workable compromise, perhaps the Fairness for All Act.

In the meantime eight cases of this type are under review by the Supreme Court, and those should be decided by next June.