By Matthew Lavietes
NEW YORK, March 17 (Openly) - Leading U.S. Republican Senator Ted Cruz on Wednesday said sweeping legislation that would bar discrimination against LGBT+ people, was "none of the government's business", underscoring the unlikelihood that the bill will pass into law.
Lawmakers clashed over the bill, known as the Equality Act, which would expand the 1964 Civil Rights Act to protect LGBT+ individuals from prejudice, in a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, with Democrats and Republicans divided.
"It is none of government's business what consenting adults do in their own bedrooms. It is none of the government's business the sexual orientation or gender identity of adults in their own lives," said Cruz, a former presidential candidate.
"This bill is not about that. This bill is about mandating that biological males should be allowed to compete in girls' sports and ... about suing pastors and churches if they teach biblical teachings on sexuality and morality."
The debate comes as trans rights sharply divide U.S. politics, with President Joe Biden pushing for greater LGBT+ inclusion in stark contrast to his predecessor Donald Trump, who backed conservatives seeking to protect religious freedoms.
Since the start of the year, 27 states have introduced or passed laws to bar trans women and girls from competing in women's sports, according to a legislative tracker run by Freedom For All Americans, an LGBT+ advocacy group.
"This bill puts an ultimatum to individuals, religious nonprofits, food banks, schools, charities adoption agencies and others: change your faith-based practices or face government punishment," said Senator Josh Hawley, a Missouri Republican."
Senator Cory Booker, a Democrat from New Jersey, said religion was being used as a shield to excuse discrimination.
"We have seen this phenomenon of religion being used to justify slavery, segregation, bans on interracial marriage," he said.
"I do not understand that in this nation that believes ... all people are created equal, that we still have a nation that tolerates, in the majority of our states, overt discrimination."
Of the 50 U.S. states, 22 and the District of Columbia prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
An estimated 83% of Americans favor laws that would protect LGBT+ people against discrimination in jobs, public accommodation and housing, including 68% of Republicans, according to a poll by the Public Religion Research Institute.
For the Equality Act to become law, it must win 60 votes in the U.S. Senate, where there is a 50-50 split between Democrats and Republicans. Biden has said he would sign the bill into law.
"We have great progress, miles of progress, but we still have miles to go, as this hearing has pointed out," said Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota.
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(Reporting by Matthew Lavietes; Editing by Hugo Greenhalgh and Katy Migiro. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)
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