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Senate Candidate Rev. Warnock on 'Religious Freedom' and LGBTQ+ Rights

U.S. Senate candidate Rev. Raphael Warnock

The fallacy of "religious freedom" as a thinly veiled means to codify anti-LGBTQ+ bigotry demonstrates the need for the Equality Act and lawmakers who'll stand up for it.

For a decade, Georgia resident Gerald Bostock worked for the Clayton County juvenile court, recruiting volunteers to help represent the interests of children in the criminal justice system. During his time as volunteer coordinator, Bostock achieved 100 percent coverage for clients in the Clayton County child welfare advocate program and received stellar performance reviews for his work. But in 2013, three months after joining a local gay softball league, Bostock was abruptly fired and escorted out of his office in the Clayton County Youth Development and Justice Center. He never returned, but his case went all the way to the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court ruled in Bostock's favor this summer, in a landmark 6-3 decision that federal employment nondiscrimination laws protect all LGBTQ employees. Sadly, we know Gerald Bostock's story is not unique -- but it is a story that should never happen in America.

All of us deserve the right to lives of equal dignity and the protections to work hard, live well, and seek equal access to health care for ourselves and our families without fear of harassment and discrimination. However, nondiscrimination statues in most states, including Georgia, do not include sexual orientation and gender identity as protected characteristics, leaving nearly half of all LGBTQ people nationwide lacking protections from discrimination in employment, education, accomodations and health care. With the fate of the Supreme Court now hanging in the balance, now more than ever it is critical that the U.S. Senate pass the Equality Act and confirm justices who will defend equality and protect the livelihoods of LGBTQ people in Georgia and across the nation.

Despite all the progress we've made and continue to work toward, LGBTQ rights are under assault by Washington. That fight couldn't be clearer in the battle around health care. The Affordable Care Act expanded affordable health care access to more than 20 million people nationwide -- including many LGBTQ people. Prior to passage of the ACA, one in three LGBTQ people making less than $45,000 a year were uninsured. But today, that number has dropped to 1 in 5 people.

Instead of celebrating our strides forward, leaders like U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler and U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, both of whom I'm running against in a special U.S. Senate election in Georgia, are pushing a divisive agenda that would overturn the very civil rights protections that we've fought to implement in the ACA that protect gender identity or sexual orientation. These very laws ensure that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or other communities cannot face discrimination in health care.

Like people in power have for centuries before them in defense of the wrongs of their time, there are those who will abuse the name of God to frame their perceived right to discriminate. They present a false choice between religious freedom and LGBTQ people. Here's what I know from over 20 years as a Baptist pastor -- while faith at its best can heal and bring us closer together, too often, I have witnessed it used to justify injustice against women, minorities, and especially LGBTQ people. Faith wielded as a cudgel to harm our neighbor has no place in our pews, in our streets, or in the halls of Congress. The same sort of religious fearmongering I'm fighting against, has shown up in the form of my opponent Kelly Loeffler who would rather spend her time pushing hateful bills to punish trans women athletes in schools for being themselves than to protect health care for nearly 400,000 LGBTQ Georgians.

That's why for 15 years as senior pastor of Atlanta's Ebenezer Baptist Church, I have championed the fight for equality in our state, standing firm from my pulpit against so-called religious freedom bills to support the dignity of all people . But to ensure equality for all, we need comprehensive legislation passed in Congress to enshrine equal rights for all against the whims of bad bills or the changing tides of our nation's highest court. The notion that equal rights are a sacred part of the American promise and who we are is the covenant we have with one another. And the fierce urgency in the voices of LGBTQ people who have waited too long for equal justice under the law demands that we act now. It's time that the U.S. Senate joined the U.S. House of Representatives in heeding the call of Americans across the nation for our Congress to pass legislation like the Equality Act to ensure that the ideals of liberty and justice enshrined in the Constitution truly extend to every citizen.

Some might find it strange that a pastor would submit himself to the business of politics, and I would agree. But this fight, this campaign, is a continuation of my lifelong commitment to service. Our votes are sacred, living prayers of action for the kind of world we want to live in. In November, it's on all of us to make it known that we support the protection of LGBTQ people and to help build a better nation where all Americans can without fear of retribution be themselves authentically.

I hope that you will join me in the pursuit of that promise.

Rev. Raphael Warnock is running for the U.S. Senate in Georgia's special election. He has served since 2005 as the senior pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church, where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. preached.

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Rev. Raphael Warnock