Democrats Fight Back Against Religious Freedom Laws By Pushing For LGBT Federal Protections

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In a pointed response to the discrimination brought about by Indiana’s so-called “Religious Freedom” law, House Democrats announced a resolution to protect the civil rights of the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community on the federal level.

Representative Jared Polis (D-CO) called it, “A new resolution that discrimination against gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender is wrong and Congress is on right side of this battle.”

In a call with the press Monday morning, House Democratic Policy and Communications Committee Chair Steve Israel (D-NY), Congressman Jared Polis (D-CO) and Congressman David Cicilline (D-RI) explained that the resolution is a statement of values that LGBT people should be protected from discrimination under federal law. The resolution will be followed up with legislation this spring that will protect the civil rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people on the federal level.

Congressman André Carson (D-IN) will introduce the resolution later this week.

Rep. André Carson of Indiana explained in a statement read during the call that in the wake of backlash against the “Religious Freedom” law in his own state, Congress needed to act to overcome this civil rights issue and “ensure freedom for all Americans.” Carson said action is needed because, “Governments at all levels look to institutionalize discrimination in the name of religious freedom.”

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Rep. Jared Polis said the resolution and legislation are necessary because Congress needs to act when basic freedoms come under attack, “Congress won’t sit idly by when our basic freedoms come under attack.”

Rep. David Cicilline charged that the Indiana law undermines basic freedoms, and the reason these freedoms are being undermined is because we don’t have a federal law ensuring equal rights. Cicilline said, “We don’t have a federal LGBT law, ensuring equal rights and due process… In a majority of states it is legal to discriminate against LGBT.” He continued, “The bill would, for the first time, cut through the patchwork of 50 states.”

Democrats are saying it is Congress’ job to take a stand for the basic freedoms of the LGBT community and they can’t allow in any state an intent to discriminate against LGBT, as evinced in Indiana’s RFRA.

“When intolerance occurs anywhere, everyone has a responsibility to take a stand. Intolerance doesn’t represent America, tolerance represents America,” Rep. Steve Israel said. “It’s time for the U.S. Congress to weigh in. … Our goal here is to make it known that we will not accept state discrimination against LGBT. We will protect civil rights and freedoms.”

Rep. Israel got cut off before he was finished speaking, as he was in traffic during the call.

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The resolution Democrats introduced today is intended as an affirmative statement that they believe it is Congress’ job to support the LGBT community, it is, they say, “a strong statement of our belief in equality to set groundwork for an introduction later this spring of comprehensive civil rights bill to prevent discrimination.”

A comprehensive bill will be introduced later this spring, for which Democrats are working with coalitions and national organizations to create the language. While there hasn’t been any indication of Republican support as of yet, Democrats are hopeful that the finished bill will have bipartisan support. To this end, it is their hope that the legislation will mirror religious exemptions of the federal law, where LGBT will simply be treated no differently. Cicilline explained that religious liberty and non-discrimination have long co-existed, so both freedoms can be protected.

The Democrats see it as part of their duty in upholding the Constitution that they ensure the civil rights of all citizens, using legislation to do so if necessary. As Polis said, “No one should be denied service or turned away from a store.” Conservatives tend to disagree on principle, as they push for less regulation on the federal level. However in this case, conservatives sort of shot themselves in the foot when they used the idea of religious freedom to trample on the civil rights of others. One freedom does not eclipse another, and if the states can’t or won’t act responsibly, the federal government has a duty to step in and protect its citizens.

There is a case to be made for too much federal interference, but overriding those concerns is the fact that citizens who are supposed to be enjoying the freedom guaranteed to them under the Constitution are instead being denied housing, education, jobs, service and more.

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This bill will probably be killed in the House, which like the Senate is run by Republicans. But the idea of federal protection for LGBT people has been introduced and with enough people voting, could become a reality.

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