Who Is the Democrat Fighting to Protect Marriage Equality Opponents?

Who Is the Democrat Fighting to Protect Marriage Equality Opponents?

Rep. Dan Lipinski of Illinois is the only Democrat to cosponsor a bill now before the House of Representatives that would protect people from discrimination for opposing marriage equality.

The measure, House Resolution 2802 or the First Amendment Defense Act, would prohibit federal agencies from denying grants, tax exemptions, certifications or licenses because of a business or individual’s belief that marriage should be limited to heterosexual couples, according to The Hill. It was introduced this week by conservative Republicans Raúl Labrador of Idaho in the House and Mike Lee of Utah in the Senate.

“Our bill ensures that the federal government does not penalize Americans for following their religious beliefs or moral convictions on traditional marriage,” Labrador said in a statement. “In a shifting landscape, it’s time that Congress proactively defend this sacred right.”

Lipinski, a six-term congressman, represents Illinois’s Third Congressional District, which includes parts of the southwest side of Chicago, southwest Cook County, and northeastern Will County. Lipinski's district is largely liberal, "having overwhelmingly backed President Obama in 2008 and 2012, and his constituents already have city-level and state-level LGBT workplace protections enacted into law," Freedom to Work's Christian Berle told The Advocate one year ago, when the organization was seeking the congressman's support for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. But Lipinski has not supported that bill, and he has taken several anti-LGBT positions. 

The First Amendment Defense Act is nearly identical to a prior bill, introduced by Labrador in 2013, that Lipinski also cosponsored: HR 3133, the Marriage and Religious Freedom Act.

In 2013, Lipinski didn’t hedge in defending his endorsement: “The Marriage and Religious Freedom Act would help preserve the most basic rights of all Americans: the right to religious liberty and the rights of conscience," he said. "The idea that individuals, churches and institutions could be penalized for not endorsing a practice in opposition to their core beliefs goes against the fundamental principles espoused by our founding fathers.  I ask my colleagues in the House to act on this legislation swiftly to discourage the potential discrimination against those who simply choose to exercise their rights as Americans."

At least that time, he didn’t go it alone; Rep. Mike McIntyre of North Carolina also cosponsored the 2013 bill. McIntyre retired last year rather than risk losing a tough reelection campaign in N.C.’s Seventh District, redrawn as a heavily Republican area representing eastern North Carolina.

Lipinski’s congressional biography describes him “as a champion of the middle class” who “has earned a reputation as a legislator who brings people together to solve problems, even during historic congressional gridlock.” 

He voted with the Democratic Party 82.2 percent of the time, according to Ballotpedia, which ranked him 184th among the 204 House Democratic members.

The congressman isn’t up for reelection until next year, and according to Ballotpedia is strongly opposed to a woman’s right to choose an abortion, a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, and what the site calls an “absolute right to gun ownership.” He favors efforts to “keep God in the public sphere,” and strongly favors “more enforcement of the right to vote.”

He is listed on the website as “neutral” as to the question of whether he’s “comfortable with same sex marriage,” which Ballotpedia says is based on “voting records, statements to the media, debate transcripts or citations from books authored by or about the candidate.”

In June 2014, The Advocate reported, “Beyond being from a generally liberal district,  Lipinski has a history of voting for LGBT-inclusive legislation. He voted for the first piece of federal legislation to explicitly protect LGBT people — the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act — in 2009 and supported the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" in 2010. [In 2013], he cast his vote for the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, which includes enumerated protections for LGBT people as well. And he's already a cosponsor of the LGBT Safe Schools Improvement Act, so he's demonstrated a penchant for protecting LGBT people of all ages against violence.”

But according to the Illinois Family Institute’s 2014 Voter Guide, Lipinski opposed ENDA, Senate Bill 815, which passed the Senate but died in the House, having never made it out of committee. The right-wing group's guide describes the bill as granting "special rights based on 'sexual orientation' and 'gender identity.'"

He was also one of nine Democrats who voted in 2011 to uphold the Defense of Marriage Act, according to The Hill,and hasn't publicly changed his position. The portion of DOMA that denied federal government recognition to same-sex marriages was struck down by the Supreme Court in 2013.

Lipinski, 48, is married, is one of only a dozen trained engineers in Congress, and before his election in 2004 taught American government at the University of Notre Dame. His father, William Lipinski, was a congressman from Illinois for 20 years, leaving office in 2004. The elder Lipinski, a moderate-to-conservative Democrat, was a cosponsor of DOMA in 1996.

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