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BY MICHAEL K. LAVERS, WASHINGTON BLADE
The Puerto Rico Senate on Sunday approved a religious freedom bill that critics contend would allow anti-LGBT discrimination in the U.S. commonwealth.
The bill — which is known as the Law for the Protection of Religious Liberty in Puerto Rico — notes the U.S. and Puerto Rican constitutions guarantee freedom of religion. The measure also states “it is important to remember the situations of confrontations that the religious sector experienced in the past administration where the public education sector tried to impose an ideology contrary to parents’ Christian principles.”
The bill specifically refers to obligatory “teaching of gender ideology in all private education” through the Puerto Rico Department of the Family’s campaign against child abuse that then-Gov. Alejandro García Padilla’s administration launched in 2014.
García was in office from 2013 until January of this year.
His administration in 2015 announced it would no longer defend Puerto Rico’s same-sex marriage ban. Same-sex couples have been able to legally marry in Puerto Rico since shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark ruling in the Obergefell case that extended marriage rights to same-sex couples throughout the country.
Laws that banned anti-LGBT discrimination in Puerto Rico and added sexual orientation and gender identity to the U.S. commonwealth’s domestic violence statutes took effect in 2013. García in 2015 issued executive orders that prohibit hospitals from discriminating against patients based on their gender identity when they seek treatment in an emergency room and allows trans Puerto Ricans to change the gender on their driver’s license.
“It must be made absolutely clear that this statute cannot be interpreted with the purpose of discrimination in the way the state provides services,” reads the bill. “The state has the obligation to always provide public services to all citizens, without discriminating based on race, religion, sex or sexual orientation and gender identity.”
The Puerto Rico House of Representatives in May approved the bill. LGBT rights advocates and their supporters quickly criticized the senators who supported the measure.
“Your religious liberty cannot impede my rights,” tweeted Pedro Julio Serrano, founder of Puerto Rico Para Tod@s, a Puerto Rican LGBT advocacy group, on Monday.
<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet” data-lang=”en”><p lang=”es” dir=”ltr”>Tu libertad religiosa no puede impedir mis derechos. <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/NoAlPC1018?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#NoAlPC1018</a> ¡NO AL DISCRIMEN! <br><br>Gobernador <a href=”https://twitter.com/ricardorossello?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@ricardorossello</a> VETE el mal llamado Proyecto de Libertad Religiosa que busca legalizar el discrimen a la gente LGBTT. ?️?</p>— Pedro Julio Serrano (@PedroJulio) <a href=”https://twitter.com/PedroJulio/status/940362854020116480?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>December 11, 2017</a></blockquote>
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This article originally appeared in the Washington blade and is made available in partnership with the National LGBT Media Association.