Black pastors criticise Equality Act, push for Fairness for All Act

Fifty-seven Black Christian leaders have written a letter to members of the US Senate’s Judiciary Committee expressing support for sweeping LGBT rights but asking for a new bill that includes religious exemptions.

Tuesday’s letter, sent the day before the committee held a hearing on a House-passed bill that would systemise discrimination protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity into federal law, was fronted by the AND Campaign, a progressive civic engagement organisation that highlights the voices of urban Christians.

The letter said: "We want to clearly state our support for federal protections for LGBT persons in employment, housing and the like,” the letter states. “We’re committed to embracing and advocating for those safeguards. Unfortunately, the collaborative process and substance of the Equality Act fall well beneath the standard necessary to cultivate a healthy pluralistic society.”

"The Equality Act, which passed the Democratic-controlled US House of Representatives on February 25, would amend the Civil Rights Act to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. It does not include exemptions for religious groups, and it would override the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which prohibits the federal government from “substantially burdening” individuals’ exercise of religion unless there’s a compelling government interest."

In outlining the shortcomings of the Equality Act, the signatories highlighted the Fairness for All Act as "a much more thoughtful and just way to protect our LGBT neighbours."

The faith leaders are advocating for the Fairness for All Act, which would provide broad protections for LGBTQ people and, at the same time, provide exemptions for religious institutions that uphold traditional beliefs about marriage and sexuality.

The bill was introduced in the US House last month and is modelled on the “Utah Compromise,” a 2015 state law that strengthened religious freedom and protected LGBTQ people from discrimination.

Conservative groups have argued that despite its protections for religious organisations, the Fairness for All Act will still "codify a radical gender ideology" into law. Liberal groups such as the Human Rights Campaign contend that the Fairness for All Act only includes "substandard protections for LGBT people" and features "massive loopholes."

Although the Equality Act passed the House for a second time last month with relative ease, the legislation faces an uncertain future now that it sits in the Senate.