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Fairness for All Act seeks middle ground on LGBT rights

Legislation seen as alternative to Equality Act

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Fairness for All Act, gay news, Washington Blade

Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Utah) has introduced the Fairness for All Act. (Photo public domain)

Newly introduced legislation in the U.S. House backed by the Mormon Church seeks to strike a middle ground on LGBT rights and religious freedom in federal civil rights law, although major proponents of each refuse to support the legislation.

Introduced by Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Utah) on Friday, the Fairness for All Act would strike balance between LGBT rights and religious freedom in way proponents say would protect the First Amendment rights. That way, however, permits anti-LGBT discrimination from religious institutions and small-business wedding vendors.

“All of God’s children, regardless of sexual orientation or religion, deserve dignity, respect and the right to pursue happiness,” Stewart said. “This legislation allows us to settle the legal questions and get back to the business of loving our neighbors.”

The Fairness for All Act is seen as an alternative to the Equality Act, legislation approved by the House in May under the Democratic majority — with five Republican votes. The Equality Act would make anti-LGBT discrimination a form of sex discrimination under the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and clarify the Religious Freedom Restoration Act can’t be a justification for discrimination.

Much like the Equality Act, the Fairness for All Act would make anti-LGBT discrimination against federal law, but it would also institute an accommodation for institutions like religious organizations and small-business wedding vendors.

The Fairness for All Act would prohibit anti-LGBT discrimination in employment, housing, jury selection, credit, federal programs and public accommodations, but do so without defining anti-LGBT discrimination as sex discrimination. The bill would also expand the definition of public accommodations beyond the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

But in contrast to the Equality Act, the Fairness for All Act would preserve the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and protect the tax-exempt status of religious colleges and universities that oppose same-sex marriage, such as Brigham Young University, Bethel University and Catholic University.

The Fairness for All Act would also extend protections to small business whose owners refuse to provide services to same-sex weddings based on religious objections. Among them is Jack Phillips, the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop, who gained notoriety when his reached the Supreme Court and justices ruled narrowly in his favor based on the facts of the case.

The measure would prohibit anti-LGBT discrimination at “any store, shopping center or online retailer or provider of online services that has 15 or more employees for each working day in each of 20 or more calendar weeks in the current or preceding calendar year,” but states the threshold doesn’t apply to claims of discrimination based on race, color or national origin or the small business wedding vendors excluded under the measure.

Similarly, the measure says “a property owned or operated primarily for noncommercial purposes by a non-profit religious corporation that holds itself out to the public as substantially religious, has as its stated purpose in its organic documents that it is religious, and is substantially religious in its current operations” is not a public accommodations under the legislation.

Lastly, the Fairness for All Act purports to protect religiously affiliated adoption agencies “so they can continue to serve vulnerable children and willing couples, while at the same time ensuring the ability of LGBT persons to adopt and foster children too.”

Unlike the Equality Act, the Fairness for All Act also makes clear access to abortion services aren’t protected, but stipulates the measure shouldn’t be construed to impose a penalty on women who have had an abortion or seek abortion-related services.

Among the proponents of the Fairness for All Act is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and the Seventh-Day Adventist Church, which expressed support for the legislation in a statement Friday.

But the nation’s leading advocacy group for LGBTQ rights says the Fairness for All Act doesn’t go far enough, and an anti-LGBT legal firm that purports to protect religious freedom also doesn’t support the legislation.

Alphonso David, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said he “strongly oppose[s]” the Fairness for All Act because it sells LGBTQ people short and erodes existing protections under federal civil rights law.

“The so-called Fairness for All Act is an unacceptable, partisan vehicle that erodes existing civil rights protections based on race, sex and religion, while sanctioning discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people,” David said. “For LGBTQ people living at the intersection of multiple marginalized identities, this bill is a double whammy of dangerous rollbacks and discriminatory carve-outs. This bill is both wrong and harmful, and we strongly oppose it.”

David said the right path for advancing LGBTQ rights is the Equality Act, which he said is necessary because “LGBTQ people deserve full federal equality, period.”

“The Equality Act, on the other hand, has already passed through the House of Representatives with a bipartisan majority, the support of more than 260 leading companies and more than 500 civil rights, religious, medical and social welfare organizations, and is our movement — and, most importantly, our community’s — top legislative priority,” David said.

A spokesperson for Alliance Defending Freedom, the anti-LGBT legal firm that has represented Masterpiece Cakeshop and schools seeking to deny transgender kids access to bathroom consistent with their gender identity, referred to the Washington Blade to a 2018 statement from the organization against the Fairness for All Act Act.

“Every person should be treated with dignity and respect,” said ADF Senior Vice President of U.S. Legal Division Kristen Waggoner. “Unfortunately, sexual orientation and gender identity laws like the so-called ‘Fairness for All’ proposal undermine both fairness and freedom. This proposal is a SOGI law under different branding, with special — and likely temporary— exemptions that protect only a favored few.

A chief proponent of the Fairness for All Act, however, is the American Unity Fund, a pro-LGBTQ Republican organization backed by philanthropist and GOP donor Paul Singer. Another supporter of the legislation is Republican LGBT ally Margaret Hoover, who voiced support for the measure in an interview last month with the Los Angeles Blade.

The Fairness for All Act is introduced as the U.S. Supreme Court is considering litigation that would clarify whether Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which bans discrimination on the basis of sex in employment, also applies to cases of anti-LGBT discrimination.

If the court rules in favor of LGBT workers, it could have far reaching implications and make federal legislation against anti-LGBT discrimination moot in employment, housing and education (although a legislative change would still be necessary to ban anti-LGBT bias in public accommodations and federal programs). If the court rules against LGBT workers, they would have no protections under federal law, and a legislative fix would be all the more needed.

The Trump administration, through White House Deputy Press Secretary Judd Deere, signaled an openness to the Fairness for All Act when asked by the Washington Blade about the legislation.

“President Trump has protected human dignity, fought for inclusion, promoted LGBTQ Americans and strongly protected religious freedom for everyone while in office,” Deere said. “The White House looks forward to reviewing the legislation.”

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National

VP Harris and Second Gentleman join Pride walk to rally at Freedom Plaza

The Capital Pride Alliance, the organization which produces the annual event organized the intersectional LGBTQ+ walk and celebration.

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Vice-President Kamala Harris and her husband, the Second Gentleman Douglas Emhoff (Screenshot of coverage from WJLA 7 Washington DC)

WASHINGTON – To the shock of on-lookers who then burst into cheers Saturday afternoon, Vice-President Kamala Harris and her husband, the Second Gentleman Douglas Emhoff, joined in walking with the Pride marchers on 13th Street NW in the District by the Warner Theatre headed to Freedom Plaza.

Accompanying the Vice-President, White House Pool reporter Eugene Daniels noted the Vice President and second gentleman walked with crowd down 13th and stopped at the Pennsylvania Avenue and E Street NW intersection at the corner of the Freedom Plaza where she talked to the crowd for a bit. Daniels could not hear much but reported that she did say: 

“We still have so much to do. We celebrate all the accomplishments. Finally marriage is the law of the land. We need to make sure that our transgender community are all protected.”

“There is so much more work to do and I know we are committed.”

The crowd chanted her name over and over. She stayed for about ten minutes waving and talking. 

The Capital Pride Alliance, the organization which produces the annual event in the nation’s capital, because of the pandemic as the District was reopening, had set-up and organized the intersectional Pride Walk and Rally at Freedom Plaza, LGBTQ+ walk and celebration.

At around 12:30, the march departed down P Street NW and traveled to Logan Circle and then headed south on 13th Street to Freedom Plaza. The march ended at Freedom Plaza where a 1:30 p.m. rally was held and where D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser was one of those who spoke.

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National

Orlando marks the fifth anniversary of the Pulse massacre

“I echo our mayor to say to the survivors and family members of Pulse: it’s okay to not be okay. This was a tragedy.”

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Pulse Nightclub (Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

ORLANDO, FL – On that morning five summers ago this date, survivors gathered, stunned and grieving over the horror that had been visited upon them and others frantically calling phones that would never be answered again while a community took stock of the mass murder that had claimed the lives of forty-nine innocents. June, 12, 2016 joined a litany of dates of death and suffering in American history this time impacting the LGBTQ community and beyond.

Saturday, survivors and community leaders gather in Orlando, Florida to commemorate and honor those 49 American lives lost in that act of senseless gun violence.

“Orlando was called to action on June 12, 2016. Our city was asked to find in ourselves the strength to respond with empathy when faced with an unthinkable act of violence. We are still working every day to honor the 49 angels and every person impacted by the Pulse tragedy with action. Together, we continue to make Orlando a more inclusive, welcoming and equitable community for all,” Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer said. ““Orlando United” was our call to action five years ago, but it is up to us all to ensure that this isn’t simply a slogan that we bring out annually as we mark the time that’s passed since the tragedy. Instead, it must be part of our core commitment to real change.”

“We’re still very much in the healing phase and trying to find our way,” Pulse owner Barbara Poma told the Blade on Tuesday during a telephone interview.

The massacre at the time was the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history. Nearly half of the victims were LGBTQ Puerto Ricans. The massacre also sparked renewed calls for gun control.

Poma told the Blade that she expects construction will begin on a “Survivor’s Walk” at the site by the end of the year. A museum — which she described as an “education center” that will “talk about the history of the LGBT community and its struggles and stripes for the last century or so … about why safe spaces were important to this community” and what happened at Pulse and the global response to it — will be built a third of a mile away.

“We really feel it is important to never forget what happened at Pulse and to tell the story of that,” said Poma.

Poma noted the onePULSE Foundation of which she is the executive director met with representatives of the 9/11 Tribute Museum and the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum to discuss the memorial. Poma when she spoke with the Blade acknowledged the plans have been criticized.

“This kind of opposition is not unique to these kind of projects,” she said. “It’s just important to know that really what we’re trying to do is make sure what happened is never forgotten and those lives were never forgotten,” added Poma.

In a rare bipartisan move, a bill that designates the former Pulse nightclub a national memorial was passed by unanimous consent in the U.S. Senate this past Wednesday.

“The tragedy at Pulse rocked our community and served as a reminder of the work we have to do to uproot hate and bigotry. We’re proud of the bipartisan coalition of Florida Congressional leaders for leading the effort to recognize this hallowed ground as a national memorial site.,” Brandon J. Wolf, the Development Officer and Media Relations Manager for LGBTQ advocacy group Equality Florida and a Pulse survivor told the Blade. “Our visibility matters. May the 49 lives stolen never be forgotten. And may we always honor them with action.”

Wolf was inside the club at the time of the shooting and lost his two best friends, Juan Ramon Guerrero and Christopher Andrew (Drew) Leinonen, who were among the 49 murdered during the rampage. Wolf had managed to escape but the event has forever left him scarred.

Then U.S. Vice President Joe Biden hugging Brandon J. Wolf a survivor as Biden and President Obama meet with family members of the victims and other survivors in the June 12th mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, at the Amway Center in Orlando, Florida, June 16, 2016.
(Official White House Photo by David Lienemann)
Then U.S. President Barack Obama embracing Brandon J. Wolf a survivor as he and Joe Biden meet with family members of the victims and other survivors in the June 12th mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, at the Amway Center in Orlando, Florida, June 16, 2016.
(Official White House Photo by David Lienemann)

Since that terrible night Wolf has been a force for advocacy in gun control and LGBTQ equality rights and is a nationally recognized leader in those endeavors to include by President Joe Biden.

“Pulse is hallowed ground and what happened on June 12, 2016 must never be forgotten. ” Wolf added.

“I echo our mayor to say to the survivors and family members of Pulse: it’s okay to not be okay. This was a tragedy. The nation may have watched and grieved with us, but the pain that you may be feeling is personal. I want you to know that we embrace you with love, not as symbols but as yourselves. If you are struggling, there is help available, and I encourage you to reach out,” said U.S. House Representative Val Demings (D-FL)

“It can be hard to find the words, because the truth is that no words can make this right for the survivors and families of those we lost. That’s why five years ago we promised to ‘honor them with action,’ not just with words. As we move forward from this anniversary, it is my prayer that all of us will recommit ourselves to that mission, to ensure that every Pulse survivor—and every American—can live in a nation where each person is safe to go out to a nightclub or any other place, where our LGBTQ community is protected, where the highest-quality mental health support is available to those who need it, and where we treat gun violence as the threat that it is to our loved ones. I know that we can do better, and as we commemorate this sorrowful anniversary, I believe that we must do better.”

In Washington, California U.S. Senator Alex Padilla, co-sponsor of legislation to make Pulse a National Memorial reflected,

“It is my hope that this memorial will serve as an enduring reminder of the pain and loss felt in Orlando five years ago and as a testament to the resilience and strength of the LGBTQ+ community. It is also an important reminder of the need recommit ourselves to end the senseless cycle of gun violence that has touched too many families across the country and taken too many of our loved ones,” Padilla told the Blade in an emailed statement.

“It’s an epidemic that has claimed far too many LGBTQ+ lives, particularly in Black and Latino communities. We will never let the memory of the victims of the Pulse Nightclub mass shooting fade away– and this memorial is an important part of their enduring legacy,” he added.

The White House on Saturday released a statement from President Biden who had traveled and met with survivors and the families of the victims 5 days after the massacre while he was the vice-president of the United States under President Barack Obama.

“Five years ago today in Orlando in the middle of Pride Month, our nation suffered the deadliest attack affecting the LGBTQ+ community in American history, and at the time, the deadliest mass shooting by a single gunman.

Within minutes, the Pulse nightclub that had long been a place of acceptance and joy turned into a place of unspeakable pain and loss. Forty-nine people were there celebrating Latin night were murdered, even more injured, and countless others scarred forever – the victims were family members, partners and friends, veterans and students, young, Black, Asian and Latino – our fellow Americans.

A few days later, I traveled with President Obama to pay respects to them and their families, to thank the brave first responders and the community who found strength and compassion in each other, and to pledge that what happened would not be forgotten. 

Over the years, I have stayed in touch with families of the victims and with the survivors who have turned their pain into purpose, and who remind us that we must do more than remember victims of gun violence and all of the survivors, family members, and friends left behind; we must act.

In the coming days, I will sign a bill designating Pulse Nightclub as a national memorial, enshrining in law what has been true since that terrible day five years ago: Pulse Nightclub is hallowed ground.

But there is more we must do to address the public health epidemic of gun violence in all of its forms – mass shootings and daily acts of gun violence that don’t make national headlines.

It is long past time we close the loopholes that allow gun buyers to bypass background checks in this country, and the Senate should start by passing the three House-passed bills which would do exactly that. It is long past time we ban assault weapons and high capacity magazines, establish extreme risk protection orders, also known as “red flag” laws, and eliminate gun manufacturers’ immunity from liability.

We must also acknowledge gun violence’s particular impact on LGBTQ+ communities across our nation. We must drive out hate and inequities that contribute to the epidemic of violence and murder against transgender women – especially transgender women of color. We must create a world in which our LGBTQ+ young people are loved, accepted, and feel safe in living their truth. And the Senate must swiftly pass the Equality Act, legislation that will ensure LGBTQ+ Americans finally have equal protection under law.

In the memory of all of those lost at the Pulse nightclub five years ago, let us continue the work to be a nation at our best – one that recognizes and protects the dignity and safety of every American.”

Additional reporting by Michael K. Lavers

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California

Newsom signs orders to roll back coronavirus restrictions next Tuesday

The Governor’s Office established a timeline to continue winding down the various provisions of the 58 COVID-related executive orders.

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Governor Gavin Newsom (Photo Credit: Office of the Governor of California)

SACRAMENTO – Effective June 15, restrictions such as physical distancing, capacity limits and the county tier system will end as Governor Gavin Newsom signed a series of executive orders Friday marking a return to normalcy after nearly 15 months of the ongoing battle to protect the state’s residents from the ravages of the coronavirus pandemic.  Additionally, those Californians who are fully vaccinated won’t be required to wear a mask — including indoors.

Newsom’s actions also include terminating the Stay-at-Home Order that was implemented early in the pandemic to protect Californians and retiring the Blueprint for a Safer Economy.

“California is turning the page on this pandemic, thanks to swift action by the state and the work of Californians who followed public health guidelines and got vaccinated to protect themselves and their communities,” said Newsom. “With nearly 40 million vaccines administered and among the lowest case rates in the nation, we are lifting the orders that impact Californians on a day-to-day basis while remaining vigilant to protect public health and safety as the pandemic persists.”

The Governor’s Office today established a timeline and process to continue winding down the various provisions of the 58 COVID-related executive orders, which suspended statutes and regulations to help the state and businesses continue operations during the pandemic.

To ensure that impacted individuals and entities have time to prepare for the changes, the provisions will sunset in phases, beginning later this month, in July and in September. For example, the suspension of certain licensing requirements for manufacturers to produce hand sanitizer will end on June 30, as shortages are no longer a concern. By the end of September, nearly 90 percent of the executive actions taken since March 2020 will have been lifted.

The California Department of Public Health on Friday released a new state public health officer order that goes into effect on June 15. 

Dr. Tomás Aragón, California’s public health officer, issued a new order that, among other things, puts in place new requirements for mask wearing that take effect Tuesday. The new rules say fully vaccinated people don’t have to wear a mask in most places, either indoors our outdoors. But the state is still requiring people who have not been vaccinated to wear a mask in public places.

“We’ve met our metrics, we feel prepared,” Dr. Mark Ghaly, California’s Health and Human Services Agency secretary, told reporters on Friday. “Things in California, from a COVID transmission perspective, are going reasonably well.”

These actions supports the full and safe reopening of the state, while maintaining focused public health requirements that address the risk posed by variants as some regions across the nation and world continue to experience high levels of transmission, Ghaly noted.

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