KENT — The conversation around marriage equality, gender, even the debate about public restrooms is back in the spotlight as lawmakers work to hash out the Equality Act, which aims to give civil liberties to LGBTQ+ people.
The Equality Act passed the house with three republican votes alongside democrats back in March. The bill would amend former civil rights; giving gays, lesbians, bisexuals, trans, and queer people federal freedoms as a protected class, removed from discrimination in the workplace nationwide. Congressman Peter Meijer says he’s willing to work with his colleagues across party lines but says the bill has some unintended consequences for multiple groups of people.
“The overall goal of preventing discrimination is widely shared,” the congressman said. “So how do we reach that in a way that will not create negative impacts in places where it was not intended to?”
Rep. Meijer believes the bill in its current state overlooks and even infringes first-amendment rights; of non-profits, faith-based organizations, universities, and even medical professionals, to name a few.
“There's a large difference between ensuring that the government is not aiding and abetting discrimination and violating equal protection, and the government forcing individuals into a position where they're being compelled to violate their conscience and violate sincerely held first amendment protected religious expression,” Rep. Meijer said.
Rep. Meijer went on to say he stands by supplemental legislation he believes is bipartisan, supported by the Christian University Association, that offers a competing bill to achieve many of the same goals to prevent discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
The Equality Act was co-signed by Sen. Gary Peters, who declined an interview. Instead, he directed us to his online statement which reads in-part, “As Senator, I’ll always support this movement by defending the rights of all Americans: no matter whom they love or how they identify."
The representative said he doesn't believe Sen. Peters meant to make any change with this bill, only to send a message about the movement.
According to the FBI’s latest hate crime report, LGBTQ+ hate crimes are up more than 11% since 2017. As lawmakers hash out the details of the bill, people we spoke with say something needs to be done to protect the LGBTQ community. Even though some states make it illegal to discriminate against someone based on who they love or how they identify, Jeff Sorensen, Founder of The Diversity Equity and Inclusion Advisory Council, says arbitrary discrimination remains an unsolved problem nationwide..
“I hope the Equality Act will help ensure that the trans community is protected,” Sorensen said.
Next stop for the bill is the senate, but it could be some time before we see it gain momentum towards a potential vote due to the infrastructure bill and the pandemic.