Common-sense votes protect all
First and foremost, let me be clear: I do not believe in discrimination — period. It’s wrong, hurtful, and against the law. There is no place for discrimination in Maine or in America. We should stamp it out wherever and whenever it rears its ugly head.
Everyone who knows me understands that I embrace and respect everyone. That’s how I live my life. That’s how I raised my son.
Sadly, but not surprisingly, extreme partisan political opponents are, once again, trying to distort my voting record in Congress for their own gain. I have never, and will never, support legislation which discriminates against any person, group, or organization.
Let me set the record straight.
Last year, President Barack Obama issued an executive order that prohibits discrimination in hiring against our fellow Americans, including on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, by federal contractors competing for government work. I voted for an amendment to federal law that supports that directive. During the past year, however, there has been growing confusion by churches and religious organizations who seek government contracts as to whether or not they can still retain their religious beliefs and traditions in their own hiring practices.
Parishes and religious charities regularly provide vital services to our men and women in uniform and their families. They contract with the Department of Defense and the Veterans Administration to perform church and funeral services, grief counseling, job training, and provide aid to homeless shelters for those who have sacrificed so much for our nation.
Religious institutions have long been protected in their right to practice their faith, including in their ability to hire individuals who reflect their traditions and values, such as military chaplains. This protection is well established in landmark federal anti-discrimination laws such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. Our own U.S. Constitution guarantees the right of all Americans to be able to freely practice their faith. The Supreme Court has affirmed this bedrock First Amendment liberty, including in the hiring practices of religious organizations.
That’s why last week I didn’t support an amendment that reaffirmed the president’s executive order but did not offer any clarifying language for our religious institutions that receive federal contracts.
This week, I was pleased to have found a solution with my Republican and Democrat colleagues in the House to protect against discrimination in hiring for both LGBT individuals and religious institutions. We passed a similar amendment last week that provides protection to LGBT individuals, and then right after we passed a second amendment that allows an exception for religious institutions, thereby protecting their religious liberties. Both amendments were included in the same large appropriations bill. Independent thinking; no arm twisting.
This common-sense solution ensures LGBT individuals that they cannot be denied a job by a business contracting with the federal government based on their gender identity or sexual orientation. At the same time, churches and religious institutions, and military chaplains, cannot be forced to choose between providing critical services to our military families or making hiring decisions based on their faith and values.
It’s balanced, it’s fair, it’s Maine common sense. And, it supports federal anti-discrimination law and Constitutional religious freedoms that Americans have coveted since our nation’s founding.
One’s character and integrity are measured, in part, by how one treats thy neighbor. Everyone is equal in my eyes. Everyone deserves equal protection under the law.
Fighting discrimination should be a common battle cry for all Mainers and all Americans. Shame on those who use it as a political football to divide us.