Utah senator Mitt Romney has said he is opposed to the Equality Act because he thinks it would threaten “religious liberty”.
The Republican, who ran against Barack Obama for the presidency in 2012, signalled his opposition to the legislation in a statement released to the Washington Blade on Tuesday (16 February).
The Equality Act would amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in housing, employment, public education, and a number of other areas.
In an email, Romney’s spokesperson Arielle Mueller said: “Senator Romney believes that strong religious liberty protections are essential to any legislation on this issue, and since those provisions are absent from this particular bill, he is not able to support it.”
His spokesperson did not respond to a follow-up email asking if he would be open to supporting the legislation in the future if it some of the language was changed.
The Equality Act is set to be revived next week.
While the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives passed the Equality Act in 2019 by a vote of 236-173, it was never even brought for a vote in the then-Republican controlled Senate.
However, with Democrats now in control of the House, Senate and presidency for the first time in a decade, efforts to pass the bill are being stepped up in line with Joe Biden‘s promise to make it a priority in his first 100 days.
Democrats in the House of Representatives are expected to revive the Equality Act next week. While it is expected to clear the House, where Democrats have a small but solid majority, it could face challenges in the Senate, where Democrats and Republicans have 50 seats each.
Vice president Kamala Harris has the ability to cast a tie-breaking vote in the Senate if the bill gains exactly 50 votes, but one Democrat, West Virginia’s Joe Manchin, has previously declared his opposition to the bill.
To make matters worse, 60 votes would be needed to override a likely GOP filibuster effort unless Democrats succeed in abolishing the filibuster mechanism – which Manchin and another conservative Democrat, Kyrsten Sinema, have both stated their opposition to supporting.
Romney has a chequered track record when it comes to LGBT+ rights. In the 1990s, he expressed his opposition to the “Don’t ask, don’t tell” military policy, which required LGBT+ service members to hide their identities in order to continue in their positions. However, in 2007, he said it was “not the time” for gay and lesbian service members to serve openly.
During his time as governor of Massachusetts, he was supportive of gay pride events, but went on to rescind an executive order that prohibited discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in the state workforce.