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Democrats Introduce Bill To Amend the Religious Freedom Restoration Act to Protect LGBT Americans

Senate Democrats introduced a bill Tuesday that would amend the 25-year-old Religious Freedom Restoration Act to prevent the law from being used to justify discrimination against people, including gay, lesbian and transgender citizens.

Though it is unlikely to pass in the Republican-controlled Congress, the Democrats’ bill, called the Do No Harm Act, shows the party’s stance toward a thorny question in the hands of the Supreme Court — how to choose when both LGBT people and conservative Christians feel their civil rights are at risk.

The Religious Freedom Restoration Act, commonly referred to as RFRA was enacted in 1993. Initially, it was usually referenced in cases involving practitioners of minority religions, such as Sikhs and Muslims seeking the right to wear their religious headgear in their driver’s license photos. But in recent years, it has become a favorite law among conservative Christians, who try to use it toi “protect” their “religious rights” discriminate against the GLBT community.

The Supreme Court is considering the case of a Christian cake baker, who says he should have the religious freedom to refuse to make a cake for a gay wedding. (Florists, photographers and an Indiana pizza shop have made similar claims.)

The Democrats’ bill would amend RFRA to say that it does not protect the religious liberty of one person when the civil rights of another would be impinged. “While our country was founded on the value of religious liberty, that freedom cannot come at the expense of others’ civil rights,” Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, said in a statement.

The sponsors of the Senate bill include Hirono and Sens. Tammy Baldwin (Wis.), Dianne Feinstein (Calif.), Kamala D. Harris (Calif.), Patrick J. Leahy (Vt.), Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.), Edward J. Markey (Mass.), Jeff Merkley (Ore.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.) and Ron Wyden (Ore.).

The bill would add text to the 1993 law specifying that RFRA cannot counteract civil rights laws, employment law, protections against child abuse or access to health care.

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Will Kohler

Will Kohler is a noted LGBT historian, journalist and owner of Back2Stonewall.com. A longtime gay activist, Will fought on the front lines of the AIDS epidemic with ACT-UP and continues fighting today for LGBT acceptance and full equality. Will’s work has been referenced in notable media venues as MSNBC and BBC News, The Washington Post, The Daily Beast, Hollywood Reporter, and Raw Story,

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