Civil rights vs. religious freedom: Debate over the Equality Act

Politics

GREENVILLE, N.C. (WNCT) – The Equality Act and its LGBTQ protections are moving on to the U.S. Senate after a mainly party-line vote in the U.S. House of Representatives.

North Carolina Republican Congressman Greg Murphy voted against it Thursday, calling it an attack on religious liberty and science. Democrat G.K. Butterfield said he voted for the controversial measure.

The Equality Act would ban discrimination against LBGTQ people in areas like jobs, housing, education and public accommodations. It would add gender identity and sexual orientation to existing civil rights laws.

“It is estimated that around 70% of North Carolinians support codified nondiscrimination protections against LGBTQ people so that means that Senator (Thom) Tillis and Senator (Richard) Burr have the responsibility to their constituents to vote yes on the equality act,” said Noah Ambrose, the LGBTQ+ chair of Young Democrats of N.C. 

Opponents say the Equality Act goes against religious beliefs, defining genders as only men and women. They argue it would allow the federal government to mandate what people should believe. Many Republicans oppose the Equality Act, though three House Republicans voted in favor of it Thursday.

“I’ll scrutinize it very closely. I’m opposed to discrimination on any basis, but I do want to make sure religious liberties are protected, that our constitutional rights are protected,” says Republican Sen. Josh Hawley.

There are 22 states that have state-level protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The rest, including North Carolina, do not.

There’s no timetable for when the Senate would debate or vote on the Equality Act. Democrats believe they have enough bipartisan support to pass it.

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