Orrin Hatch, the longest-serving Republican senator in history, has called on his party to protect the rights of LGBT+ individuals.
The Utah senator, who will retire from the role in January after 41 years—nearly half of his 84-year-long life—told the Senate in his formal goodbye on Wednesday (December 12) that Republicans should fight for queer rights as well as religious freedoms.
Hatch told his fellow Republican senators to reach across the aisle to Democrats to make progress on LGBT+ issues.
“Nowhere is the pluralist approach more needed than in the fraught relationship between religious liberty and LGBTQ rights,” he said, according to The Washington Post.
“Protecting religious liberty and preserving the rights of LGBTQ individuals are not mutually exclusive”
— Orrin Hatch
While he insisted that religious liberty, a favourite issue of the Trump administration, “deserves the very highest protection our country can provide,” Hatch added that “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. It shows us that protecting religious liberty and preserving the rights of LGBTQ individuals are not mutually exclusive.
“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.”
There are currently no federal-level protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in the US.
This means that it is legal to fire people for being gay in dozens of states, due to patchy state-level protections.
However, Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi confirmed in October that the long-neglected LGBT Equality Act, which would institute a nationwide protection against discrimination for LGBT+ people, was legislation she “really [wants] to do” in the next term of Congress.
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With the Democrats winning the House of Representatives last month and Pelosi being confirmed as Speaker on Thursday (December 13), the act may be on the table before long.
Orrin Hatch has bucked his party’s anti-LGBT line before
Hatch has form when it comes to advocating on behalf of LGBT+ people, despite being against same-sex marriage and a significant member of a party which has repeatedly sought to undermine queer rights since winning control of the presidency, Senate and House in 2016.
Since the 1990s, when he supported the Defence of Marriage Act—which denied same-sex couples recognition and federal marriage benefits—he has voted in favour of same-sex civil unions and stood against Mitt Romney when he said he would place a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage if he became president in 2012.
The senator, who is Mormon, also said earlier this year that “LGBT youth deserve our unwavering love and support,” especially in light of the “suicide epidemic” in the US.
“These young people need us — and we desperately need them,” he continued.
“We need their light to illuminate the richness and diversity of God’s creations. We need the grace, beauty, and brilliance they bring to the world.”
The suicide rate among queer people in the US is notably higher than it is in the general population, with a 2016 study by the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention finding that LGB young people were almost three times more likely to seriously contemplate suicide than their straight peers.
It also found that LGB youth were five times more likely to have attempted suicide.
If you are in the US and are having suicidal thoughts, suffering from anxiety or depression, or just want to talk, call the National Suicide Prevention Line on 1-800-273-8255. If you are in the UK, you can contact the Samaritans on 116 123.