A Republican member of the U.S. House with a reputation for being a supporter of LGBT rights said Thursday she has concerns about newly introduced comprehensive LGBT rights legislation that prevent her from supporting it.
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), who’s been an original co-sponsor of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and was the first sitting Republican U.S. House member to support same-sex marriage, said in a statement to the Washington Blade the breadth of the legislation, known as the Equality Act, makes her uneasy.
“I have long been committed to equal rights for all Americans,” Ros-Lehtinen said. “From the countless letters I have signed in favor of equality to legislation I have co-sponsored, I have led on this issue because I believe in the basic principle of fairness for all in our nation. While the Equality Act seeks to be an important step forward to protect LGBT individuals against discrimination in housing, workplaces, schools, and public accommodations, I have concerns about the current proposal’s broadness and how it will impact religious organizations. I remain committed to working to ensure all Americans are treated fairly.”
The Equality Act would prohibit discrimination against LGBT people in employment, housing, public accommodations, jury service, education, federal programs and credit.
During a news conference on Thursday, Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), the lead of sponsor of the Equality Act in the U.S. House, announced he had 155 original co-sponsors for the bill — but they were all Democrats. That means Republican lawmakers who have supported LGBT rights, including Ros-Lehtinen, aren’t on board at this time.
Ros-Lehtinen’s comments about the bill reflect concerns raised by other civil rights groups that seeking to amend the Civil Rights Act — as the Equality Act seeks to do — would place the historic statute at risk of dangerous amendments when the legislation comes to the floor. Amending the Equality Act with a poison-pill measure may also have the effect of watering down the Civil Rights Act as a whole.
The lawmaker’s concern for religious organizations also recalls the split among LGBT rights advocates over ENDA in 2013. Numerous LGBT advocacy groups dropped support for the bill because it would continue to allow secular employees to face anti-LGBT discrimination at religious organizations, such as religious hospitals and schools, but LGBT-supportive Republicans, including Ros-Lehtinen, and other groups continued to press for passage.
Gregory Angelo, executive director of Log Cabin Republicans, expressed a wariness over the Equality Act in a statement Thursday based on similar concerns.
“It is widely known that Log Cabin Republicans has long supported, lobbied, and advocated for comprehensive LGBT non-discrimination legislation, but we share hesitations about the Equality Act expressed by a number of organizations including LGBT advocates on the left and other civil rights groups,” Angelo said. “Some of our staunchest Republican allies in Congress with unassailable records in favor of LGBT equality have indicated similar concerns with this legislation. The full text of the Equality Act was only provided to Log Cabin Republicans late last night, mere hours prior to the bill’s formal introduction. We will review this bill with our allies in Congress and National Board of Directors prior to taking any official position. Log Cabin Republicans does not operate on the timetables of others; ultimatums are not the way to grow coalitions.”
It’s the not first time Ros-Lehtinen, who has a transgender son, has been vocal about her refusal to support an LGBT rights initiative. When Democrats sought to pass ENDA last year in the House with a discharge petition, Ros-Lehtinen said she couldn’t sign it because she has a general policy of not signing discharge petitions. (In earlier times when she was a member of the minority party, she signed discharge petitions started by her fellow Republicans.)
Winnie Stachelberg, executive vice president of external affairs at the Center for American Progress, responded to Ros-Lehtinen by saying the religious exemption in the Equality Act is the same for other classes of people under existing law.
“There’s an existing framework for combatting discrimination, which balances religious freedom with non-discrimination and that framework can and should work for everyone,” Stachelberg said. “The Equality Act is holding religious organizations to the same standard with regard to sexual orientation and gender identity that they are already held to when it comes to race, color, national origin and in most instances, sex.”