U.S. Rep. Bob Dold of Illinois has signed on as the first Republican cosponsor of the Equality Act, the comprehensive LGBT rights bill pending in Congress.
But Dold, a first-term congressman from a swing district in the far northern suburbs of Chicago, seems to want broader religious exemptions in the act, according to a report by The Hill.
"Illinois has a long and proud history of fighting for equal rights, and I am proud to continue this tradition by supporting the Equality Act. Engraved on the front of the Supreme Court is the phrase 'equal justice under the law,' but as long as any Americans can be legally discriminated against, there is not equal justice in this country," Dold said in a statement first released to The Hill. "Congress must act to ensure that all Americans, including the LGBT community, are protected equally from discrimination under federal law, just as they already are in my home state of Illinois."
Dold also said the bill is "not perfect in its current form," but "it marks an important first step in the process of crafting a bipartisan bill that ensures equal rights for all Americans while also fully protecting the religious freedoms our Constitution guarantees."
Dold didn't get specific about what changes he'd like to see in the bill. The Washington Blade, which also covered the story, placed a call to his office but had not yet received a response when its article was posted.
The Equality Act, introduced last summer, would go beyond the long-stalled Employment Non-Discrimination Act. It would amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and other federal laws to ban discrimination based on real or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity in public accommodations, public education, employment, housing, federal funding, jury service, legal protections, and credit. It would also clarify that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act cannot be used to defend discrimination against LGBT people and that sex-segregated facilities must admit individuals in accordance to their gender identity.
President Obama and Vice President Biden have both endorsed the act, as have all three Democratic presidential candidates: Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and Martin O'Malley. Sanders, the only one of them currently serving in Congress, is a cosponsor. With the addition of Dold, the Equality Act has 172 cosponsors in the House and 41 in the Senate.
Human Rights Campaign president Chad Griffin released a statement praising Dold's move. "Bob Dold is showing tremendous leadership today by becoming the first Republican to sign on as a cosponsor of the Equality Act and we're thrilled that he's standing up for our fundamental values of fairness and equality," Griffin said. "Far too many LGBT people -- nearly two-thirds -- have faced unfair and unjust discrimination in their lives, much of it in the workplace. In cosponsoring the Equality Act, Congressman Dold showed how important it is that LGBT people be able to have a fair chance to earn a living, provide for their families, and live free from fear of discrimination." The HRC has noted that such a national law is needed because 31 states still lack clear, fully inclusive nondiscrimination laws covering LGBT people.
However, Sacha Haworth, a spokeswoman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said Dold is "pandering," the Blade reports. She noted that just last week, he voted against a measure that would have exempted President Obama's executive order prohibiting anti-LGBT discrimination by federal contractors from a bill that would subject various regulations to review and make them vulnerable to repeal.
She also said Dold once opposed marriage equality, although he is now a supporter and signed on to a friend-of-the-court brief urging the Supreme Court to make a favorable ruling in last year's marriage equality case.
Dold is running for reelection this year and is in a close race with Democrat Brad Schneider, who he beat in 2014.