February 26, 2021 at 3:33 pm EST | by Chris Johnson
Zero Democrats lend name to GOP compromise on LGBTQ rights
Fairness for All Americans Act, gay news, Washington Blade
Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Utah) speaks at a press conference following the introduction of the ‘Fairness for All Americans’ Act. (Washington Blade file photo by Vanessa Pham)

Despite signals the Fairness for All Act counterproposal from Republicans on LGBTQ rights and religious freedom would have bipartisan support upon its reintroduction on Friday, the final list of original co-sponsors has no Democrats.

Although the list of 21 co-sponsors is more than double the nine who support the first iteration of the Fairness for All in the previous Congress, they’re entirely made up of Republicans. The absence of any Democrats dashes hopes from supporters the legislation could be a starting point for negotiations across the aisle on the Equality Act in the Senate.

Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Utah), the chief sponsor of the bill, nonetheless hailed the Fairness for All Act upon reintroduction as a way to bring the gap on LGBTQ rights and religious freedom.

“It is hard to really love our neighbors when we are fighting with them over whose rights are more important,” Stewart said. “This country can accommodate both civil liberties for LGBT individuals & religious freedom. We have wasted enough time, energy, and money fighting over who deserves which legal protections. It is time to define the federal protections for our LGBT and religious friends and neighbors.” 

The Fairness for All Act, like the Equality Act, would amend all aspects of federal civil rights law to expand the prohibition on discrimination against LGBTQ people in employment, housing, public accommodations, federally funded programs, education, credit and jury service. A copy of the bill reviewed.by Blade revealed the Fairness for All Act doesn’t have substantive changes from its previous iteration in terms of LGBTQ issues, but other than clarity for protections based on race, color and national origin.

Stewart, in a statement to the Washington Blade, said he won’t give up on finding Democratic for the legislation.

“I am grateful to my colleagues who joined me today,” Stewart said. “We are still working with our Democratic colleagues and have high hopes that this bill will ultimately be bipartisan.”

Stewart had signaled as of Wednesday via a spokesperson the Fairness for All Act “will have bipartisan support by the end of the week” and would hold off on plans to introduce the legislation until after the U.S. House voted on the Equality Act, the flagship comprehensive bill to expand anti-discrimination principles for LGBTQ people under federal civil rights law.

The House approved the Equality Act on a largely party-line vote Thursday with just a blemish of bipartisan support. Three Republicans voted for the Equality Act, compared to the eight who voted for the legislation in 2019.

Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), the sponsor of the Equality Act in the House, told the Washington Blade on Thursday amid uncertainty of the legislation in the Senate the Fairness for All Act would “very clearly be worse than nothing.”

“For the first time in our history, it would actually put in federal statute provisions that permit discrimination against the LGBTQ community,” Cicilline said, “It would be a tremendous step backward, which is why it’s not supported by any major LGBT organization, all of the major LGBT organizations support the Equality Act. The Stewart bill is a tremendous step backward in our fight for full equality.”

Asked if he has any issues with fellow Democrats co-sponsor the Fairness for All Act, Cicilline held firm.

“I would hope that people are committed to equality for the LGBTQ community would not support this bill because it would put in statute and authorize expressly discrimination against the LGBTQ community,” Cicilline said.

Among the co-sponsors are Republicans who voted for the Equality Act, including Reps. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.) and Tom Reed (R-N.Y.). Other co-sponsors are Republicans who voted for the Equality Act in 2019, but not 2021, including Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) and Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.). One Republican who voted twice for the Equality Act, Rep. John Katko (R-N.Y.), isn’t a co-sponsors of the Fairness for All Act.

Although both the Equality Act and the Fairness for All Act would expand the prohibition on anti-LGBTQ discrimination under federal law, they have key differences. For example, the Equality Act would specify the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act couldn’t be raised as a defense in court against allegations of illegal anti-LGBTQ discrimination, but the Fairness for All Act would not.

Additionally, the Fairness for All Act would provide an exemption under Title II of the Civil Rights Act to allow stores, shopping centers or online retailers to refuse service to LGBTQ people if they have 15 or fewer employees, but the Equality Act provides no such exemption. The Equality Act would clarify transgender people should have access to locker rooms and bathrooms consistent with their gender identity, while the Fairness for All Act implies that but doesn’t spell it out. The Equality Act is silent on whether its ban on sex discrimination would prohibit medical providers from refusing to perform an abortion, the Fairness for All Act specifies it would not.

(The Washington Blade is preparing a detailed chart on the differences between the Equality Act and the Fairness for All Act, as well as the situation with current law after the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last year in Bostock v. Clayton County, which found anti-LGBTQ discrimination is an illegal form of sex discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, therefore not only illegal in employment, but under all laws that ban sex discrimination.)

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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