Rep. John Curtis, R-Utah: “Equality Is Not a Zero-Sum Game”

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Rep. John Curtis, R-Utah, spoke on the House floor Thursday to express his concerns with what he calls the “lack of balance” in the “Equality Act” between the absolute rights of both LGBTQ individuals as human beings and religious institutions protected by the first amendment.

Curtis also explained his frustration that no consideration of amendments was allowed. He says he considers himself a “willing partner” who has introduced what he sees as common sense amendments that would help achieve a balance of protection for both interests and maintain the standards set by the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

The bill is widely expected to easily pass the Democratic-held House but is expected to fail in the Republican-controlled Senate.

Here is the speech from the video above:

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak about the Equality Act.

First and foremost, I must begin by saying that I believe the LGBTQ community is a critical part of the fabric of our country. They are deserving of our unequivocal love and respect, and their contributions to my home state of Utah are utterly invaluable.

As the mayor of Provo, I prioritized inclusion and love, and sought to ensure my administration did everything possible to recognize the intrinsic value of all our citizens, including our LGBTQ community. I fought hard against discrimination and was grateful for my association with organizations like Provo Pride, Equality Utah, Encircle, and others who I was honored to stand with to ensure our policies in City Hall reflected the love in our hearts.

Perhaps even more than that, I’m grateful for the associations and relationships in my life that have helped me better understand the experience of the LGBTQ community and have been patient with a conservative, Utah boy who grew up in the 60’s and took longer to develop the appropriate empathy than he would’ve liked. I say again, I am incredibly grateful for the contribution of the LGBTQ community and will always stand with them in love and support.

With the Equality Act, we face a unique challenge of balancing needed protections for the LGBTQ community with the importance of protecting religious liberty—one of the fundamental rights enshrined at the founding of our nation. I believe this compromise is possible because I’ve seen it before in my home state with something called the “Utah compromise,” –historic legislation that effectively balanced the absolute rights of both LGBTQ individuals as human beings, and religious institutions protected by the first amendment.

The Equality Act fails to strike that balance. Instead, these two interests are treated as a zero-sum game and no good faith effort has been put forth to allow both sides to win. This bill would end long-standing religious liberties under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a historic bipartisan legislative victory fought for by the current Democratic leader in the Senate, Chuck Schumer, my own Utah mentor Orrin Hatch, a Republican, and liberal lion Ted Kennedy. It was also signed into law by Democrat President Bill Clinton.

I’ve introduced commonsense amendments that would help achieve this critical balance of protection for both interests and maintain the standards set by the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

I’m frustrated that House Democrat leaders have decided there will not be any consideration or even debate of amendments on the Equality Act. Instead, they have established a model of legislative gas-lighting. In this case, they are taking issues where broad bipartisan agreement is possible, and taking the debate off the table. On issue after issue, whether it be climate change, the Violence Against Women Act, or now the Equality Act, they disregard willing partners such as myself, standing here hoping to work with them, and instead prefer to pass party-line bills that won’t go anywhere so they have issues to campaign on.

If my colleagues on the other side of the aisle truly want to achieve progress on this issue, I hope they’ll recognize that they have a willing partner in me—but they must be willing to work together to legislate and make room to protect both religious liberty and the LGBTQ community. Exploiting another group in order to pass another campaign messaging bill along party lines is not what this body is for.

I hope they’ll hear me today and change course before this bill is brought up for a vote.”

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