Another year, another Congress, another attempt to enact LGBTQ+ equality legislation that has no hope of succeeding. If LGBTQ+ Americans are to gain federal protections for their sexual orientation and gender identity, it will only be because responsible centrist senators — such as Democrat Sens. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, and Republican Sens. Susan Collins and Mitt Romney — strike a compromise to save the Equality Act from the failed strategy of its supporters.
The current version of the Equality Act, recently passed by the House of Representatives, is a partisan one. It would create federal anti-discrimination protections for sexual orientation and gender identity while explicitly reducing federal religious freedom protections. The former idea has bipartisan appeal, while the latter does not. Unsurprisingly, the partisan version of the Equality Act passed along mostly partisan lines, just like it did in the last Congress, and has no hope of becoming law.
Consider the evidence. The Equality Act got 12 fewer supporting votes in Congress this year compared to last Congress, including seven fewer votes from Democrats and five fewer votes from Republicans. Support in Congress for the partisan version of the Equality Act is trending in the wrong direction.
Despite Democratic Party control of the Senate, due to filibuster rules the legislation needs the votes of at least 10 Senate Republicans — 20% of GOP senators — to pass. This means the Equality Act will have to achieve a compromise that appeals to centrist senators from both parties to have any shot at passing. However, the partisan version of the Equality Act recently lost the support of the most centrist Republican in the senate: Collins.
Compromise that can finally achieve anti-discrimination protections for LGBTQ+ American requires rising above partisanship to find what unites the majority of Americans: the desire for respect and equality for all people regardless of belief or nonbelief, sexual orientation or gender identity. This is doable. We have proven it in Utah.
For years religious and LGBTQ+ Utahans have peacefully lived under a law that secures the jobs and homes of LGBTQ+ individuals against discrimination, while protecting people of faith better than anywhere else in the nation. Religious freedom in Utah has not forced LGBTQ+ Utahans back into the closet. Protections for sexual orientation and gender identity have not oppressed the religious identity of churches and individuals.
How can such compromise be struck in Congress? One way is to amend the Equality Act to protect a community often neglected by culture warriors on both sides: religious LGBTQ+ Americans.
Supporters of the Equality Act and religious freedom would likewise find their minds expanded and their lives enriched by listening to people who straddle both faith and LGBTQ+ identity. It is a false narrative to assume that religion and LGBTQ+ always need to be oppositional. In fact, nearly half of all LGBTQ+ Americans are religious, and every major religious group favors LGBTQ+ nondiscrimination policies.
These Americans want — and deserve — the ability to practice their faith in public and be protected from discrimination against their sexual orientation and gender identity. Because today’s centrist senators straddle their own gaping divides in their respective political parties, they are uniquely equipped to resonate with and craft a compromise based on the needs of religious LGBTQ+ Americans.
When it comes to helping Americans live without fear of discrimination, we must rise above the futile partisan path of one-side-takes-all victory. Centrist senators like Sinema and Manchin on the left and Collins and Romney on the right should step forward to protect both LGBTQ+ Americans and people of faith in ways that culture warriors cannot hope to achieve. The longer we put off serious compromise, the longer LGBTQ+ Americans — especially religious ones — will be forced to live with discrimination.