Chris Stewart: The Fairness for All Act is a better way forward

by Chris Stewart in "The Salt Lake Tribune"

Using the collaborative approach to problem solving for which Utah has become known, LGBT advocates and faith groups have joined with me to introduce the Fairness for All Act – legislation intended to balance the legitimate rights of both LGBT and religious communities.

Inspired by a state bill passed by the Utah legislature in 2015, this effort attempts to replicate the success Utah’s solution has demonstrated over the last four years.

In contrast with the House-passed Equality Act, this legislation accomplishes the protection of our LGBT communities from housing, employment and other forms of discrimination without compromising the religious liberties of America’s faith communities.

Like many First Amendment scholars and religious freedom advocates, I believe that we can protect one group without harming another.

Based on input from a broad range of stakeholders, this bill has been carefully crafted to preserve the rights of all Americans. At a recent press conference in Utah, support came from the American Unity Fund, which is dedicated to advancing the cause of freedom for LGBT Americans. It came from faith groups like The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which was represented by Elder Ronald A. Rasband.

Gov. Gary Herbert offered his support, noting that “there is room in our pluralistic society for people of good will to disagree on these issues but still coexist and be treated fairly.”

The bill’s narrowly-defined carveouts for religious citizens and institutions ensure that religious activity and religiously derived standards rooted in sincere conviction are protected rather than labeled discriminatory.
Throughout the process, preserving all existing protections under the Civil Rights Act has been a red line that the supporting parties refused to cross. We made a commitment to oppose the legislation should it ever erode existing civil rights protections for anyone.

For the transgender worker who fears discrimination in the hiring process, this bill offers protection. Likewise, for religious institutions, the bill prevents longstanding religious doctrines from being labeled discriminatory and illegal.
Brigham Young University has seen this type of discrimination firsthand, as national organizations have pushed to deny the university opportunities to host conferences or share job postings because of a religious standard for sexual morality that students and faculty must agree to uphold.

Likewise, the LGBT community deserves protection from discrimination. Doing so is not controversial. It is not partisan. It is the right thing to do.

A recent study shows 83% of both Democrats and Republicans support passing legislation that ends LGBT discrimination in the work place. The controversy comes when all Americans are forced to surrender natural rights to which they are entitled. That is a path we must never tread.

Criminalizing longstanding and deeply held religious practices and standards is unconstitutional and un-American. Just as discrimination on the basis of color, gender or sexual orientation is un-American.

When these two American values conflict, compromise is the answer. Not a winner-take-all solution that will be reversed each time power changes hands.

This country was founded on the core belief that people are free to practice their religious beliefs. Yet the Equality Act, which passed the House in May, will essentially force many Americans to violate those beliefs. Were it to pass the Senate, which it fortunately will not, it would prevent churches, mosques, temples and synagogues from conditioning participation on longstanding moral standards in violation of their core beliefs.

The compromise bill passed by the Utah Legislature in 2015 is a model that works. Four years later, it remains an overwhelming success. As a result, Utah recently ranked second in the nation for supporting laws that protect LGBT individuals from discrimination, according to recent polling by the Public Religion Research Institute.

I look forward to working in a bipartisan way to build support for this legislation when Democrats are ready to get back to the work of lawmaking. Meanwhile, I am optimistic about the prospects of coming together to solve this problem once and for all.

Chris Stewart, a Republican, represents Utah’s 2nd District in the U.S. House of Representatives.