The longest-serving Republican in the U.S. Senate urged colleagues to “protect LGBTQ individuals” in his farewell address on Wednesday.
After four decades in Congress, Utah Senator Orrin Hatch is set to retire in January with the coming of the 2019 Legislative Session. On the Senate floor, he advocated that lawmakers who follow in his footsteps find common ground between people of faith and the LGBTQ community.
Hatch referred to it as a “pluralist approach.”
“Religious liberty is a fundamental freedom,” he claimed in the Dec. 12 speech, as the Washington Post first reported. “It deserves the very highest protection our country can provide. At the same time, it’s also important to take account of other interests as well—especially those of our LGBTQ brothers and sisters.”
“Pluralism shows us a better way,” Hatch added. “It shows us that protecting religious liberty and preserving the rights of LGBTQ individuals are not mutually exclusive.”
According to the 84-year-old conservative, striking a compromise on the subject of so-called “religious liberty” will allow the federal government “to both safeguard the ability of religious individuals to live their faith and protect LGBTQ individuals from invidious discrimination.”
Hatch cited the “Utah Compromise” as an example of what middle ground can look like.
In 2015, Utah became the first GOP-controlled state to pass a comprehensive non-discrimination law on the basis of both sexual orientation and gender identity. The Bill was widely supported in the State Congress: passing 23 to five in the Senate and 65 to 10 in the House.
That legislation featured some specific carve-outs for faith communities. For instance, it prevented individuals from being retaliated against—such as fired from their jobs or denied housing—because of their view that marriage is between a man and a woman. The bill also prevented ministers, pastors, and other clergy from being forced to officiate same-sex weddings.
While the “compromise” was widely lauded by both religious groups and LGBTQ advocates, critics have noted key blind spots. Brigham Young University, the world’s largest Mormon college, can continue discriminating against queer and trans students in its housing and admission policies.
Hatch stopped short of any official policy recommendations in his goodbye speech. Currently, there is no nationwide law preventing discrimination against members of the LGBTQ community.
Nancy Pelosi, however, has promised to address that in 2019.
Prior to the 2018 midterms, the former and soon-to-be-current Speaker of the House claimed that if Democrats won back the lower chambers of U.S. Congress, they would push for the passage of the Equality Act. If passed, the bill would write LGBTQ protections into standing civil rights law.
It remains to be seen whether Hatch’s party—the GOP—would support a version of that legislation with or without religious exemptions. Congressional Republicans are widely opposed to queer and trans equality.
This isn’t the first time the outgoing Utah Senator has urged greater understanding for the LGBTQ community in recent months.
In a June speech delivered to the Senate, Hatch urged “unwavering love and support” for LGBTQ youth from his colleagues. He claimed that queer and trans young people “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.”
His newfound LGBTQ advocacy is a significant step forward for the longtime legislator—who scored a rating of zero on the Human Rights Campaign’s 2018 Congressional Scorecard.
In 1988, Hatch infamously called the Democratic Party of “the party of homosexuals.” He has since apologized for that remark.
Image via Getty