Washington, D.C. — As the U.S. House of Representatives prepares to vote on the Equality Act, national religious leaders are speaking out in support of LGBTQ nondiscrimination protections. At a press call today hosted by the Center for American Progress on behalf of the Faith for Equality coalition, LGBTQ and faith leaders discussed the importance of passing this historic civil rights legislation and how their support is grounded in the religious belief that all people should be able to live free from discrimination.
More than 100 faith groups have endorsed the Equality Act, which would provide consistent and explicit nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people across key areas of life, including employment, housing, credit, education, public spaces and services, federally funded programs, and jury service.
Sister Simone Campbell, executive director of NETWORK, welcomed President Joe Biden’s support for the Equality Act. She said that he recognizes the tenet of Catholic faith that all are welcome.
“And if all are welcome, all need to be protected. I think the bedrock position of our faith is to welcome and secure safety and the ability to flourish for all,” Campbell said. “President Biden comes with a very deep sense of what our faith calls us to, and that is to ensure that everyone can flourish, even if we disagree with them.”
Sunu Chandy, legal director of the National Women’s Law Center, spoke about her personal experience as an active member of her church and as a member of the LGBTQ community. She also said that while the U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled in favor of employment rights for LGBTQ workers, the Equality Act is still needed for additional protections in public accommodations and federally funded programs, as well as in public transportation and other public spaces such as shopping malls and ride shares. It would also add explicit nondiscrimination protections in housing, schools, health care, and the workplace.
“We cannot depend on always having a friendly administration; we cannot always depend on the courts to get it right,” Chandy said. “We need to have these protections in our federal civil rights laws.”
Rabbi Jared Saks, of Congregation Bet Ha’am in South Portland, Maine, said the LGBTQ community still faces discrimination in many areas of daily life, and most states do not have laws to protect them.
“The most central theme throughout Jewish scripture is equality—fair treatment of those who are at the greatest risk,” Saks said. “Time and time again, Torah commands us not to oppress the stranger because we know the heart of the stranger, having been strangers ourselves in the land of Egypt. LGBTQ equality is a central value of Jewish tradition…. In 29 states, we can still be evicted from our homes, thrown out of restaurants, and denied loans, among other things, for who we are and who we love. For too long, we have lived without the critical protections that the Equality Act will provide—protections that should be secured for each one of us, regardless of where we live in this nation. The current patchwork of protections is insufficient.”
Scott Simpson, public advocacy director at Muslim Advocates, said that his civil rights organization was proud to endorse legislation that would expand civil rights protections for the LGBTQ community and the Muslim community, including LGBTQ Muslims who deserve to be protected from discrimination in all of its forms. In many cases, he said, the current Civil Rights Act does not provide adequate protection from discrimination.
“The scourge of discrimination against American Muslims of all backgrounds is happening nationwide,” Simpson said. “The scourge can be summed up in three words: ‘No Muslims allowed.’ … Muslims and people perceived to be Muslim are often discriminated against in public accommodations that will be newly covered by the Equality Act—airlines, taxis and ride shares, health care providers, food banks, shelters, gyms and rec centers, and so many places where American Muslims just want to go about their day-to-day business free from discrimination.”
Mitchell Gold, co-founder and chairman of the Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams furniture company based in Taylorsville, North Carolina, said that the Equality Act will embrace religious liberty and reduce religious bigotry.
“As a businessperson whose second nature it is to not discriminate based on sexual orientation or gender identity or race, religion, etc., that has served my business well since our founding over 30 years ago, enabling us to become a nationally recognized prestige home furnishings brand,” Gold said. “My company is located in Taylorsville, North Carolina, where I also live. … The media has a real opportunity to let people know that there is a groundswell of people of deep faith who have gay kids or relatives or neighbors, and they want to love.”
Bishop Yvette Flunder, presiding bishop at the Fellowship of Affirming Ministries, said that passing the Equality Act would help to eradicate divisions in the country.
“One of the things that we can begin to do is stop being bifurcated,” Flunder said. “It would be refreshing, wouldn’t it, if we could move away from the us and them-ness that is so in our atmosphere? … My hope is that what we can do with this Equality Act is exhale, in terms of the bifurcation that is happening in our country. I think we need to move away from the us and them-ness and move to the us-ness. There really only is ‘us.’ And we have each other’s concerns at heart. We owe that to the generations that are coming after us.”
For more information or to speak with an expert, please contact Sam Hananel at gro.ssergorpnacirema@lenanahs or 202-478-6327.