West Virginia Democrat Sen. Joe Manchin broke with his party and spoke out against the Equality Act, saying the pro-LGBT legislation does not give enough guidance on how public schools should implement protections for trans-identified students.
As Democrats in both the House and Senate have put their support behind legislation that would amend civil rights law to make sexual orientation and gender identity protected civil classes, Manchin last week became the lone Democrat in the Senate to warn about the implications the bill could have.
In a statement, the 71-year-old Manchin, who is considered the most conservative Democrat in Congress, wrote that he supports equality for all people and that no one should be afraid to lose their job or housing because of sexual orientation.
But after speaking with local education officials in his home state, he is “not convinced that the Equality Act as written provides sufficient guidance to the local officials who will be responsible for implementing it, particularly with respect to students transitioning between genders in public schools.”
“I will continue working with the sponsors of the bill to build broad bipartisan support and find a viable path forward for these critical protections so that I can vote in support of this bill,” Manchin explained.
While Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has vowed to get the Equality Act passed in the House, a Democrat senator voting against it will make the bill even tougher to pass in the Republican-controlled Senate.
According to Politico, Republicans aren’t even expected to bring the measure to a vote, as it only has one Republican co-sponsor: Susan Collins of Maine.
Machin’s statement drew the ire of the Democrat Party in West Virginia and LGBT rights advocates.
“If this past Legislative Session didn't prove that we need to fight against discrimination and hate even harder in West Virginia then I don't know what does,” the West Virginia Democratic Party said in a statement, according to WAJR.
“The LGBTQ community endured countless remarks of hate and ignorance while bills that were crafted to protect them never made it up for a vote. Senators Joe Manchin and [Republican West Virginia Sen.] Shelley Moore Capito need to lead by example and vote in support of The Equality Act.”
Manchin joins Democrat Rep. Dan Lipinski of Illinois, the only Democrat member of the House who has spoken out against the Equality Act. Lipinski stated that he is not co-sponsoring the bill because it conflicts with his stance on religious freedom and would prevent the application of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, according to Roll Call.
Conservatives have spoken out against the Equality Act’s lack of religious protections for institutions to act in accordance with religious convictions on sexuality.
Andrew Walker, senior fellow in Christian ethics at the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, argued in an op-ed earlier this month that the Equality Act “represents the most invasive threat to religious liberty ever proposed in America.”
He also voiced concern about how the Equality Act would impact areas of “education, public accommodation, employment, and federal funding” were it to pass. He warned that it could have “sweeping effects on religious liberty, free speech, and freedom of conscience.”
“Its passage would sound the death knell for hopes of détente in the culture wars that pit conservative Christians against their LGBT neighbors. For progressives, it would be winner-takes-all,” Walker explained. “Virtually no area of American life would emerge unscathed from the Equality Act’s reach. No less significant would be the long-term effects of how the law would shape the moral imagination of future generations.”
There is a push among some in evangelicalism to pass a set of legislative ideals called “Fairness for All.”
Fairness for All pushes for the passage of gender identity and sexual orientation protections into federal law in exchange for exemptions for religious institutions that hold deep religious convictions on sexuality and marriage.
The Fairness for All approach is supported by groups like the National Association of Evangelicals and the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities.
“The debate is not about the importance about the traditional view of marriage,” Shirley Mullen, president of Houghton College in Western New York and vice chair of CCCU’s board of directors, said in February. “The debate is about the best strategy for preserving this.”
Manchin has been known to break with his Democrat colleagues on certain issues.
In February, Manchin broke with Democrats by voting in favor of the Born Alive Infant Protection Act, a measure that would have made it illegal for doctors not to try and save infants who survive abortion. The bill was defeated.
Last October, Manchin was the only Senate Democrat who voted to confirm President Donald Trump’s nomination for the U.S. Supreme Court, Justice Brett Kavanaugh.