GOP lawmaker pitches LGBT rights bill with religious exemption

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U.S. Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, leaves a meeting Sept. 19 with national intelligence inspector general Michael Atkinson regarding a whistleblower complaint at the Capitol in Washington.

One side wants to redefine gender and sexuality, forcing all others to accept the changes. The other side wants to leave people free to distance themselves from such behavior.

As Democrats push for special protection for LGBT people and Republicans worry in turn about the freedom to disapprove of certain behaviors and act on religious principles, one congressional Republican is offering a compromise.

The bill that Utah GOP Rep. Chris Stewart plans to unveil would protect LGBT individuals from discrimination in work, housing, education, and other public services, while also creating exemptions for religious organizations to act on beliefs that may exclude certain sexual or social behaviors, the Northwest Herald reports.

Stewart’s bill has support from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Seventh-day Adventist Church, but House Democrats who unanimously backed a more sweeping LGBTQ rights measure in May are giving it the cold shoulder.

Stewart sees the bill as a way to “bridge that gap” between preventing discrimination and allowing religion to influence the way one lives life.

“I don’t know many people who wake up and say ‘I want to discriminate’. Most people find that offensive,” Stewart told The Associated Press. “There are people who, and I’m included among them, have religious convictions that put them in a bind about how to reconcile those two principles.”

The Utah lawmaker’s legislation comes as the Supreme Court prepares to rule on cases that touch on the issue of employment discrimination against LGBT people, who currently do not receive specific protection in federal civil rights laws. While 21 states have laws that bar employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, Democrats in Congress and running for president are pushing for a federal statute that would provide broader protections.

But that more sweeping bill’s chances of passage are low unless Democrats take back full control of Congress as well as the White House, given President Donald Trump’s opposition and Republican critics who warn of a risk to religious freedom.

That prospect has informed Stewart and outside groups’ work on a proposal to enshrine rights for the LGBTQ community while also preserving the right for religious groups to act in accordance with their faiths.

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