Republican Utah Representative Chris Stewart introduced the Fairness for All Act to the House of Representatives on Dec. 6, 2019.
An alternative to the highly contested Equality Act, the bill summarizes its purpose: “To prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity; and to protect the free exercise of religion.” The Equality Act, a bill which has been highly contested in Congress, stated the same purpose almost word for word, with one exception: the absence of a religious exemption.
The Equality Act has stalled in the Senate, and some Republicans are hoping this could be the bill to unite both sides through compromise.
According to Christianity Today, the Fairness for All Act would give LGBT people the same protections as the Equality Act while also protecting religious organizations: “The Fairness for All Act exempts religious groups—both churches and nonprofits—from the anti-discrimination rules. Churches wouldn’t be required to host same-sex weddings. Christian schools wouldn’t have to hire LGBT people. Adoption agencies could receive federal funding even if they turned away same-sex couples looking to raise children. The law would also protect the tax-exempt status of religious groups that condemn homosexuality.”
Furthermore, the bill would still be a step forward in prohibiting LGBT discrimination. According to Christianity Today, “The law would prohibit anti-LGBT discrimination in employment, housing, and places of public accommodation, including retail stores, banks, and health care service providers. Currently, under federal law and in the majority of states, LGBT people can be evicted from rental property, denied loans, denied medical care, fired from their jobs, and turned away from businesses because of their sexual orientation.”
The Council for Christian Colleges & Universities released a statement voicing their support for the bill: “The CCCU supports Fairness for All as a solution-based approach that addresses the cultural tension surrounding religious freedom and LGBT rights. The bill is both principled, a clear and demonstrable way for people of faith to “love our neighbor” in the civic context, and pragmatic, in that the bill makes explicit many religious protections important to a rich and vibrant civil society. Orthodox Christian convictions are central to Christian colleges & universities and there must be freedom to practice, teach, and uphold those without penalty. In pairing LGBT civil rights and religious freedom, Fairness for All underscores that all persons are created in the image of God, implying dignity, value, and worth.”
Representative Chris Stewart, writing for the Salt Lake Tribune regarding the bill, said, “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.”
Stewart stated that the Equality Act is unlikely to pass through the Republican controlled Senate and that he hopes his bill can bring about protections for both sides of the polarized issue.
“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,” Stewart said.
“We want to do what we can to assure every student, regardless of ethnicity or orientation, to know they are not alone and that we in the Office of Christian Formation, Student Development and all professionals on campus are here to compassionately walk alongside them—in joy, sorrow, confusion, doubt, etc. No one at JBU should ever feel they are alone,” Tracy Balzer, Director of Christian Formation, said. “For students who identify as LGBTQ, there is indeed a place for community and pastoral presence … My office is not the only place that exists, but I do intentionally invite any LGBTQ student to join our community group, with the assurance of confidentiality. It is not an advocacy group; it is simply a place for sharing and coming alongside LGBTQ students who might feel they have nowhere to go for that kind of pastoral support.”
Whether or not the act passes, Balzer believes it is important for JBU students to be mindful of those students at JBU who identify as LGBT: “What we really want to do is demonstrate that there is room at the foot of the cross of Jesus for everyone. Our community needs to continually give attention to the ways we show love and respect for each other, as Jesus has called us to do.”