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June 22, 2016

Pa. congressman trying to make GOP evolve on LGBT rights

Charlie Dent wants to introduce anti-discrimination legislation (with some exceptions)

A Republican congressman from Pennsylvania is trying to sway his party to the middle on LGBT rights and plans on introducing a bill to push them in that direction, according to a report.

Charlie Dent, who represents a part of Southeastern Pennsylvania that includes Allentown, is working on legislation that would act as a compromise between banning certain forms of discrimination against the LGBT community and protecting forms of religious freedom, BuzzFeed News reported Tuesday.

Dent told the website his bill, which is still in its early stages, would be an easier pill to swallow for Republicans, as it would provide protections in settings like workplaces and housing, but also give unspecified exceptions for religious objections. Per BuzzFeed:

Dent declined to speculate on how, exactly, his bill could balance religious freedoms and nondiscrimination protections. But he said the two interests “are not irreconcilable. We are trying to work them out in legislation.”

Dent said he might be interested in providing carve outs for religious organizations that decline to make hiring decisions due to their faith, drawing a comparison to Catholic organizations that only hire Catholics.

While the specifics of the bill are still very unclear (he told Buzzfeed he'd like to have something ready by the end of July), Dent's advocacy for shifting the GOP's rhetoric and policy concerning the LGBT community is well-documented.

After the House Rules Committee blocked a vote on an amendment that would ensure federal contractors can't discriminate based on sexual orientation or gender identification (reintroduced after the deadliest mass shooting in American history happened in a gay nightclub), Dent reiterated to McClatchy that he thought his party needed to evolve:

“I feel very strongly that we should not discriminate against people based on their sexual orientation,” he said. “You know, the country has evolved demographically and socially on this issue. I believe the Republican Party should, too. So the bottom line is that nondiscrimination is a reasonable proposal.”

Dent was among the 30 Republicans that stuck with that amendment during a raucous House vote, during which GOP leaders swung several to oppose it at the last minute.

To note, Dent's compromise may not be as well-received among Democrats as he hopes it will be among Republicans. A spokesperson for Rep. David Cicilline, who has introduced a large-scale LGBT rights bill that doesn't include religious exceptions, told BuzzFeed the congressman wouldn't accept legislation that only gives "partial equality."