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Orrin Hatch urges Republicans to protect LGBTQ rights

"Protecting religious liberty and preserving the rights of LGBTQ individuals are not mutually exclusive," said Hatch in a Senate speech

Sen. Orrin Hatch — Photo: YouTube

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Ut.) has urged his Republican colleagues to protect LGBTQ rights during a farewell speech to the Senate.

The GOP’s longest-serving Senator, 84-year-old Hatch announced earlier this year that he would not be seeking an eighth term. He will be replaced in January by incoming Senator-elect Mitt Romney.

In his speech, Hatch said that the Senate was “in crisis,” decrying the partisanship that has overtaken both sides of the aisle, and urged Senators to “not be enemies but friends.”

“All the evidence points to an unsettling truth: The Senate, as an institution, is in crisis or at least may be in crisis. The committee process lies in shambles,” Hatch said. “Regular order is a relic of the past. And compromise — once the guiding credo of this great institution — is now synonymous with surrender.”

He added: “We must restore the culture of comity, compromise, and mutual respect that used to exist here. Both in our personal and public conduct, we must be the very change we want to see in the country. We must not be enemies but friends.”

But while Hatch’s words struck a more conciliatory tone than many of his colleagues, it was his comments on religious liberty and LGBTQ rights that surprised.

In an era where the GOP seems more invested than ever in infringing on the the rights — and even the very existence — of LGBTQ people, Hatch said they should instead be working with and protecting queer Americans.

“Nowhere is the pluralist approach more needed than in the fraught relationship between religious liberty and LGBTQ rights,” Hatch said, adding, “Religious liberty is a fundamental freedom. It deserves the very highest protection our country can provide. At the same time, it’s also important to account of other interests as well — especially those of our LGBTQ brothers and sisters.

“Pluralism shows us a better way. It shows us that protecting religious liberty and preserving the rights of LGBTQ individuals are not mutually exclusive,” he continued. “I believe we can find substantial common ground on these issues that will enable us to both safeguard the ability of religious individuals to live their faith and protect LGBTQ individuals from invidious discrimination.”

According to the Washington Post, Hatch referenced the “Utah Compromise” as a potential way forward for federal-level anti-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people that also would protect religious liberty.

The “Utah Compromise,” passed in 2015, banned LGBTQ discrimination in housing and employment in the state, while also respecting religious institutions that disagree with homosexuality.

At the time, the Human Rights Campaign called the legislation — which was backed by Mormon church leaders — “a landmark” and hailed it as the “first time that a Republican-controlled process has led to extension of protections for LGBT people.”

Hatch’s speech puts him at odds with many Republican leaders and Donald Trump, who has sought to work with anti-LGBTQ organizations and individuals during his presidency.

However, it follows another passionate speech Hatch gave respecting LGBTQ people earlier this year. In June, Hatch took to the Senate floor to honor Pride Month — something Trump failed to do for the second year in a row — and expressed support for the LGBTQ community.

He particularly focused on high suicide rates among LGBTQ youth.

“No one should ever feel less because of their gender identity or sexual orientation,” Hatch said at the time. “LGBT youth deserve our unwavering love and support. They deserve our validation and the assurance that not only is there a place for them in this society, but that it is far better off because of them. These young people need us — and we desperately need them.”

But, as Slate noted after Hatch’s Pride Month speech, his outreach to the LGBTQ community puts him somewhat at odds with his own history on the subject.

Supporting LGBTQ rights isn’t entirely new for Hatch: in 2013 he voted in favor of the pro-LGBTQ Employment Non-Discrimination Act; in 2016 he opposed anti-transgender comments by then-presidential candidate Ben Carson; and last year he rejected Trump’s attempts to ban transgender people from the military.

But earlier this year he joined other conservative senators in sponsoring the First Amendment Defense Act, a bill that would potentially allow people to use religion to justify discriminating against the LGBTQ community.

And when the Supreme Court struck down part of the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act in 2013, Hatch criticized the court for a decision he said was based on “personal opinion.” He also supported the original legislation when it was first introduced.

In 2012 he voted against reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act — legislation he originally co-sponsored in 1994 — because it contained “divisive projects,” including LGBTQ discrimination protections.

In 2009 he voted against the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, legislation that sought to add crimes based on sexuality and gender identity to federal hate crime laws.

And in 1977, while in his first term as senator, Hatch told a group of students that he “wouldn’t want to see homosexuals teaching school any more than I’d want to see members of the American Nazi Party teaching school.”

While Hatch should be commended for ending his Senate career by trying to repair some of the damage Republicans have done to the LGBTQ community, social media users also pointed out the irony in his words — not least with regards the current divisiveness of the Senate.

Watch Hatch’s speech below:

Skip to 16:10 for his section on LGBTQ rights.

Rhuaridh Marr is Metro Weekly's managing editor. He can be reached at rmarr@metroweekly.com.

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