As the U.S. House of Representatives prepares for a historic vote on the Equality Act, one Democrat is coming under scrutiny for his failure to co-sponsor the LGBTQ rights measure.
The Equality Act, which would add provisions prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity to federal civil rights laws, has three Republican co-sponsors and 237 Democratic co-sponsors, including delegates for the District of Columbia, Guam, U.S. Virgin Islands, and the Northern Mariana Islands. That means that only one House Democrat is not on record as supporting the bill: Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.).
Lipinski, who represents a district covering part of Chicago and its southwestern suburbs, won his seat in Congress in 2004 after his father dropped out after winning the Democratic nomination, allowing the State Democratic Party to name the younger Lipinski as the nominee in his place. As a result, Lipinski’s policy positions, particularly on social issues, largely hew to those espoused by his father, appealing to the type of conservative, Catholic, blue-collar Democrats who once comprised the majority of the district.
Lipinski, who opposes abortion rights and fetal stem-cell research, also has largely opposed LGBTQ equality during his time in Congress.
He supported the section of the Defense of Marriage Act, eventually overturned by the Supreme Court, that denied same-sex couples access to federal spousal benefits.
He continues to oppose same-sex marriage, and supported the First Amendment Defense Act, which would prevent the government from taking action against businesses or individuals that discriminate against LGBTQ people.
Lipinski’s supporters argue that he’s not completely anti-gay, as he voted in favor of an LGBTQ-inclusive hate crimes bill and in favor of repealing the military’s now-defunct “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy.
But his absence from the list of Democratic co-sponsors is glaring, particularly in an era when even other conservative, pro-life Democrats in Congress largely support LGBTQ rights.
Marie Newman, who challenged and lost to Lipinski by just over 2,100 votes in the 2018 Democratic primary election, and is considering challenging the congressman again in 2020, is already criticizing him for not supporting the act.
“There’s only one House Democrat — one in the whole country — who doesn’t support this civil rights legislation: Dan Lipinski,” Newman wrote in a fundraising email sent out last Thursday. “Once again, he’s bucking the Democratic Party to stand against equality, something he’s done consistently throughout his 14 years in Congress.”
Responding to Newman’s email, Lipinski told the political trade publication Roll Call that he supports the legislation’s intended goals, but believes the bill conflicts with his stance on religious liberties.
“I believe that LGBTQ people should be protected from discrimination and afforded equal treatment under law in public life,” Lipinski said. “LGBTQ members are our neighbors, colleagues, friends and peers, and their sexual orientation or identity should not lead them to be treated any less than others.”
Lipinski told Roll Call that he believes the Equality Act conflicts with the application of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which could “potentially have damaging and unforeseen consequences for Americans’ religious freedom.”
He also claims to be working with his colleagues to resolve some of the issues he has with the bill, which passed out of the Judiciary Committee on a party-line vote without amendments.
“My faith is very important to me, and my belief in the Constitution’s protection of freedom of religion is fundamental to me,” Lipinski said.
Newman, who challenged Lipinski from the left, told supporters in her email that she is “gearing up to run again in no small part because of positions like this.”
Lipinski has also attracted criticism from the LGBTQ advocacy organization GLAAD, which has demanded that the congressman reverse his position and support the act, which is expected to receive a vote this week.
As part of its efforts, the organization has launched a digital campaign asking Illinoisans to put pressure on Lipinski. GLAAD has also launched a similar campaign in West Virginia to urge U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, the only Senate Democrat not co-sponsoring the Equality Act, to support the legislation.
According to data from the Public Religion Research Institute, 69% of Illinoisans support protections for LGBTQ people in employment, housing, and public accommodations, similar to those outlined in the Equality Act.
“Congressman Dan Lipinski’s concerns about the balance between religion and government are a false flag,” Zeke Stokes, the chief programs officer for GLAAD, said in a statement. “Religion is an American value that’s treasured in this country — including for the LGBTQ community — and is not compromised in any way by ensuring equal rights and dignity for all people.
“There are 425,000 LGBTQ Illinoisans whose safety and quality of life are on the line while Congressman Lipinski parrots the misguided anti-LGBTQ activists who use religion as a weapon against them,” Stokes added. “Rep. Dan Lipinski should listen to his constituents — not anti-LGBTQ extremists.”