Congress

Dan Lipinski demurs on LGBTQ bill, Marie Newman pounces

Illinois congressman is only House Democrat not co-sponsoring Equality Act

Rep. Daniel Lipinski, D-Ill., hasn’t signed on to the Equality Act because he says it conflicts with his position on religious liberties. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

When House Democrats introduced a signature measure this week that would extend civil rights protections for LGBTQ people, only one from their ranks was missing from the long list of co-sponsors — Illinois Rep. Daniel Lipinski. His likely primary challenger was watching. 

Marie Newman, who is exploring another progressive bid to unseat the eight-term lawmaker, drew attention to Lipinski’s apparent lack of support for the measure, dubbed HR 5, in a fundraising email Thursday. 

“There’s one House Democrat — one in the whole country — who doesn’t support this civil rights legislation: Dan Lipinski,” the missive read, in bold print. “Once again, he’s bucking the Democratic Party to stand against equality, something he’s done consistently throughout his 14 years in Congress.”

Lipinski said in a statement to Roll Call that he supports the “goals of the legislation.” But he did not co-sponsor it on its initial introduction Wednesday because it would conflict with his stance on religious liberties. He said he is working with his House colleagues to resolve the issue.

“I believe that LGBTQ people should be protected from discrimination and afforded equal treatment under law in public life,” he said. “LGBTQ members are our neighbors, colleagues, friends and peers, and their sexual orientation or identity should not lead them to be treated any less than others.”

Lipinski said he had refrained from signing on to to the Equality Act because it would prevent the application of the so-called Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which would “potentially have damaging and unforeseen consequences for Americans’ religious freedom.”

“My faith is very important to me, and my belief in the Constitution’s protection of freedom of religion is fundamental to me,” he said.

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Lipinski’s voting record puts him on the right flank of the House Democratic Caucus. A member of the fiscally conservative Blue Dog Coalition, he has described himself as a pragmatic politician who can reach across party lines. But he has been criticized in the past for his positions on gay rights, among other hot-button issues on the left.

He said last year that while he remains personally opposed to gay marriage, he will no longer allow that position to affect his votes because it is “the law of the land.” He is also among the few remaining Democrats who voted against the 2010 health care law and consistently  votes against abortion rights.

Newman seized on such social issues in her 2018 primary challenge, calling the incumbent out of touch with voters in the deep-blue Chicago-area district. Lipinski ended up narrowly winning, 51 percent to 49 percent.  

Newman’s fundraising email makes clear that she is betting the same strategy will work this time around. “I fell just two percent short of defeating this guy last year — and I’m gearing up to run again in no small part because of positions like this,” she said.

The Religious Freedom Restoration Act, passed in 1993 and signed by President Bill Clinton, states that “governments should not substantially burden religious exercise without compelling justification.”

It has been cited in several recent controversial cases, including the Supreme Court’s 2014 Hobby Lobby decision that allowed family-owned corporations citing religious reasons to abstain from paying for insurance coverage for contraception under the health care law. 

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