We know from Jesus that the greatest commandment is to love – and that we should love our neighbors as ourselves. As faith leaders based in Portland who serve as ministers in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, our personal ethics compel us to support protecting all Americans from discrimination. As pastors who are also a part of the LGBTQ community, we have felt the weight of discrimination in our personal lives and those of our LGBTQ congregants.

A Progress Pride Flag flies with the American flag at the Skowhegan Free Public Library during Pride Month in June. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel, File

No one should be excluded from their community because of who they are or who they love. Until 2009, we were unable to serve as pastors in our church because LGBTQ people were excluded from leadership. Today, our congregation practices radical welcome as an antidote to discrimination and other forms of injustice. Authenticity is celebrated, and our doors are open to all.

In fact, faith leaders and devout followers from all walks of life are now leading the conversation nationwide about why protecting LGBTQ people matters, and why we support nondiscrimination protections because of our faith, not in spite of it.

For months, faith leaders across Maine have been calling on Sen. Susan Collins to consider pledging her support for federal nondiscrimination protections. We believe that momentum for LGBTQ equality is building – and that America is ready for Congress to pass clear, comprehensive and secure nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ Americans in all 50 states.

No matter our faith or spiritual practice, all Mainers believe in fairness. We believe in treating others the way we would want to be treated. The vast majority of us agree that everyone should have the freedom to go about their daily lives – go into a store, check into a hotel or eat a meal at a restaurant – without fear of harassment or discrimination. We can see that no one should be at risk of being denied housing or refused services simply because of who they are or who they love. Comprehensive LGBTQ-inclusive nondiscrimination legislation will ensure we put those beliefs into practice nationwide.

There is an urgent need for these protections. Fifty percent of LGBTQ people live in the 29 states that lack comprehensive statewide laws explicitly prohibiting discrimination against LGBTQ people. The rest of us are equally vulnerable to discrimination when we cross state lines. A recent survey found that more than 1 in 3 LGBTQ Americans faced discrimination of some kind in the past year, including more than 3 in 5 transgender Americans. More than half of LGBTQ people said they experienced harassment or discrimination in a public place, such as at a store, on transportation or in a restroom.

We can all agree – and according to survey after survey, most Americans do – that everybody should be able to participate in all aspects of daily life with dignity and respect, and without fear of discrimination. We’ve made great strides on LGBTQ equality in recent years, and we need to keep striving for justice.

It’s been nearly a decade since Maine became the first state in the country to proactively pass marriage at the ballot by popular vote. Progress happened fast – just a few years before this groundbreaking victory, Mainers had voted overwhelmingly against marriage equality. We were a bellwether of a changing nation rapidly finding its conscience on the issue of equality for LGBTQ people.

Our state has seen a similar evolution on nondiscrimination legislation. LGBTQ people faced multiple losses at the ballot box until 2005, when the people of Maine ultimately voted to protect their LGBTQ loved ones, friends and neighbors from discrimination by passing nondiscrimination protections statewide.

Maine has led the nation on a journey toward acceptance, understanding and support of LGBTQ people. Sen. Collins can continue this legacy by pledging her support for S.393, common-sense bipartisan legislation that would update federal law to include express and enduring nondiscrimination protections for 13 million LGBTQ Americans across virtually every area of daily life.

Excluding people from civil protections based on who they are or whom they love hurts us all. It is our call to love our neighbor and respect the fundamental dignity of all people.

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