PROVIDENCE, R.I. — U.S. Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) is banding with other lawmakers to introduce a resolution seeking to protect LGBT Americans from discrimination under federal law as religious objection bills in other states have prompted protests.
Cicilline, one of the few openly gay members of Congress, said the resolution is a call for comprehensive federal legislation that would prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
Crafted by Cicilline and four other Democratic members of Congress – two of whom are also openly gay – the resolution is a declaration that Congress is committed to ending discrimination, Cicilline said.
Indiana amended a religious freedom law establishing broad religious protections to businesses and organizations after critics argued it could be used to discriminate against gays. Arkansas passed a similar law, but only after it was reworked to address actions by the government, not by businesses or individuals.
“To me, it’s clear the vast majority of Americans oppose this kind of discrimination,” said Rep. Andre Carson of Indiana, who introduced the resolution. “I think we saw legislators in the Indiana General Assembly were not in tune with where most of Americans are.”
Public opinion has become more supportive of same-sex marriage and other gay rights in recent years, but the majority of states currently don’t include protections for gays and lesbians in their non-discrimination laws. But the Indiana and Arkansas laws, along with court rulings or legislatures legalizing same-sex marriage in 37 states and an expected U.S. Supreme Court decision on gay marriage this year, are fueling efforts to change that as the 2016 elections approach.
“Most Americans don’t realize the enormous hole in our non-discrimination laws that LGBT people are falling through,” said Janson Wu, executive director for Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, which provides testimony and feedback to strengthen bills related to LGBT issues.
Cicilline said he plans to introduce a comprehensive anti-discrimination bill later this spring that would address the gaps in current law. The resolution is a first step, he said, and it currently has over 100 sponsors, though a Republican-controlled Congress could prevent the proposed bill from becoming legislation.
Nevertheless, Wu said he and other LGBT rights advocates are looking to Congress to act.
“With the overwhelming majority of Americans opposing discrimination against LGBT people, what is their excuse?” Wu said.
Cicilline said the legislation is inevitable; the only question is how long it will take.
“I don’t think there’s any question we’ll be a country where discrimination is prohibited,” he said.
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