The federal Fairness for All Act aims to bring about a cease-fire in the seemingly intractable battle between LGBT rights and religious freedom. But given the response to the bill, introduced in the U.S. House by Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, on Friday, it is likely dead on arrival.
The legislation reads much like the LGBT-supported Equality Act, which was introduced in the House earlier this year. That bill would have enshrined sexual orientation and gender identity protections in virtually every major piece of federal civil rights legislation. The biggest difference is that the Fairness for All Act, unlike the Equality Act, contains religious exemptions. Some religious groups and leaders such as the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities, Mormon officials, and pastor and author Tim Keller support the measure, but many don’t. Focus on the Family President Jim Daly and Southern Baptist Convention leaders Russell Moore and Albert Mohler rejected it, as did most major LGBT advocacy groups.
“It’s an enormous miscalculation of what is politically possible,” Alliance Defending Freedom senior counsel Greg Baylor said, adding it suggests a “hint of desperation as to the trajectory on these issues.”
He ticked off a parade of negative consequences flowing from the legislation: the right of men identifying as women to participate in women’s sports and use women’s restrooms and locker rooms, an expanded definition of public accommodation covering most businesses of 15 employees or more, and a religious exemption narrower than what comes under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.
Small businesses like Jack Phillips’ Masterpiece Cakeshop in Colorado, which was at the center of a landmark religious liberty Supreme Court case, might be exempt for now. But Baylor said that if the Fairness for All Act passes, “It means that if your business succeeds and grows, you are going to sacrifice your constitutional rights.” —S.W.