SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced its opposition Monday to a comprehensive nondiscrimination bill that faces long odds in Congress, saying the legislation doesn’t “meet the standard of fairness for all,” contending it would strip key religious freedom protections.
The faith said in a statement the Equality Act would “threaten religious employment standards, devastate religious education, defund numerous religious charities.” The church pointed out the importance of religions and religious schools having the right to create faith-based employment and admissions standards.
The Southern Baptist Convention and the Roman Catholic Church are among others that oppose the measure.
“While providing extremely broad protections for LGBT rights, the Equality Act provides no protections for religious freedom,” the statement said.
The legislation would add gender identity and sexual orientation to existing federal nondiscrimination laws covering such things as employment, housing, education, and public spaces and services.
The bill has widespread Democratic backing and seems certain to pass the House, but the chances appear slim in the Republican-controlled Senate.
The Utah-based faith, widely known as the Mormon church, said it favors “reasonable” measures to protect LGBT people’s access to housing, employment and public accommodations, but such efforts shouldn’t erode the right for people to live and speak freely about their religious beliefs.
The religion has tried to stake out a more compassionate stance on LGBTQ people, while sticking firmly to its doctrinal opposition to gay marriage and same-sex intimacy.
The church points to a 2015 Utah anti-discrimination law it backed. That measure made it illegal to base employment and housing decisions on sexual orientation or gender identity, while also creating exemptions for religious organizations and protecting religious speech in the workplace.
The faith said the federal Equality Act doesn’t strike the right balance.
It expressed concern “the ongoing conflicts between religious liberty and LGBT rights is poisoning our civil discourse, eroding the free exercise of religion and preventing diverse Americans of good will from living together in respect and peace.”
U.S. Sens. Mitt Romney and Mike Lee, Republicans from Utah, also oppose the legislation.
Lee said in a statement the proposal is “seriously flawed” and would “dangerously undermine the First Amendment and the freedoms it was designed to protect.” Romney doesn’t support the measure because it doesn’t contain strong religious liberty protections that are “essential” to any legislation on the issue, said spokeswoman Arielle Mueller in an email.