Equality Illinois Denounces New Attempt to Attack LGBTQ Illinoisans
 A so-called Religious Freedom Defense Act is really “a license to discriminate”

SPRINGFIELD (January 12, 2017)-Equality Illinois on Thursday denounced a new attempt by anti-LGBTQ forces in the Illinois General Assembly to discriminate against same-sex married couples.

Legislation introduced in the Illinois Senate would establish a license to discriminate for individuals, organizations, non-profits, and businesses who refuse to serve LGBTQ people. If it became law, Senate Bill 64 would neutralize the state’s civil rights protections for LGBTQ people by effectively prohibiting enforcement of those standards.

“SB 64 is an assault on our shared Illinois values of fairness, justice, and equality,” said Brian C. Johnson, CEO of Equality Illinois, the state’s largest civil rights advocacy organization representing lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer Illinoisans.

“SB 64 is not about religious freedom,” Johnson said. “On the contrary, the bill targets LGBTQ people for discrimination in Illinois. SB 64 would turn back the clock on what we have achieved in Illinois. We call on the General Assembly to reject this mean-spirited legislation.”

State Senator Kyle McCarter (R-Vandalia), the bill’s chief sponsor, introduced SB 64 within hours of the new General Assembly being sworn in on Wednesday afternoon. It is part of a national campaign by anti-LGBTQ forces to whittle away at state and local anti-discrimination laws and the U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding marriage equality. McCarter introduced the identical bill in 2015 during the previous General Assembly. After mobilization of LGBTQ stakeholders and outreach to state legislators by Equality Illinois, the 2015 bill did not move forward in the legislative process. Equality Illinois pledges to lead similar opposition against the new bill.

SB 64 bill would allow a person or broad range of businesses and other entities to discriminate in Illinois if they believe or act on a religious belief or moral conviction in opposition to marriage equality or sexual relations outside of the marriage of one man and one woman. State and local governments would be prohibited from taking action against such discrimination despite the existence of anti-discrimination laws. Additionally, governments would be prohibited from suspending or revoking public funding even if the entity was willfully discriminating against LGBTQ people.

“The consequences are far-reaching,” Johnson said. “For example, a hospital could deny visitation rights to a same-sex spouse, a business could refuse to provide health benefits to the same-sex partner of an employee, an adoption agency could refuse to place a child with a loving same-sex couple, or a hotel could refuse to rent a room to a same-sex couple. SB 64 would have a chilling effect on the civil rights of LGBTQ people in Illinois. That is wrong.”

Since 2006, the Illinois Human Rights Act has prohibited discrimination against LGBTQ people in the areas of employment, public accommodations, and housing. Those civil rights protections were passed with bipartisan support in the General Assembly.

Additionally, a religious freedom law is already on the books in Illinois since 1998. The Illinois Religious Freedom Restoration Act and LGBTQ-inclusive provisions of the Human Rights Act have co-existed since 2006 and function to protect a person’s religious freedom while ensuring equal treatment of LGBTQ Illinoisans.

SB 64 resembles the federal First Amendment Defense Act, a bill introduced in the previous session of the U.S. Congress and that is expected to be reintroduced during the new Congress. In the previous session of Congress, the First Amendment Defense Act garnered 37 Senate co-sponsors and 172 House co-sponsors, including U.S. Reps. Dan Lipinski (D), Peter Roskam (R), and Randy Hultgren (R) of Illinois. During last year’s presidential race, President-elect Trump has promised to sign the First Amendment Defense Act should the Republican majorities in Congress put it on his desk.

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