What just happened?
Within the next few weeks, the U.S. House of Representatives is scheduled to vote on the radical and controversial “Equality Act.” The bill would amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Fair Housing Act to “prohibit discrimination” on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation.
What is the Equality Act?
The Equality Act would amend two landmark civil-rights laws—the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Fair Housing Act—to change the definition of “sex.” Instead of the term being solely in reference to biological men and women, it would also cover sexual orientation or gender identity for the purposes of employment, housing, public accommodations, jury service, education, and federal programs.
According to the bill, the term “sexual orientation” means homosexuality, heterosexuality, or bisexuality, and “gender identity” means the gender-related identity, appearance, mannerisms, or other gender-related characteristics of an individual, regardless of the individual’s designated sex at birth.
The bill also explicitly states, “The Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (42 U.S.C. 2000bb et seq.) shall not provide a claim concerning, or a defense to a claim under, a covered title, or provide a basis for challenging the application or enforcement of a covered title.” (See also: 9 Things You Should Know About the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.)
Who supports the Equality Act?
Support for the Equality Act is embedded in the language of the Democratic Party platform, which says, “Democrats will always fight to end discrimination on the basis of . . . sexual orientation, [and] gender identity . . . ”
In the House, the bill has 240 co-sponsors, including every Democrat and three Republicans (Brian K. Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, John Katko of New York, and Jenniffer Gonzalez-Colon of Puerto Rico). In the Senate, the bill has 46 co-sponsors, including 45 Democrats and one Republican (Susan Collins of Maine).
Several large corporations have also endorsed the bill, including Amazon, Apple, AT&T, Coca-Cola, eBay, Facebook, Google, Johnson & Johnson, Microsoft, PepsiCo, UPS, Verizon, and Wells Fargo.
Who opposes the Equality Act?
A coalition of 86 faith-based nonprofits, religious entities, and institutions of higher education sent a letter to Congress stating their opposition to the Equality Act.
Almost all Republicans in the U.S. Senate are also expected to vote against the bill.
How is the vote connected to the upcoming Supreme Court cases on LGBT discrimination?
Earlier this week the Supreme Court announced it has accepted three cases involving homosexuals and transgender persons who claim they were discriminated against at work. The Court will rule on whether current federal anti-discrimination laws protect employees based on sexual orientation and gender identity. (See: The FAQs: Supreme Court to Decide Whether ‘Sex’ Includes Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity.)
Drew Hammill, spokesperson for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said the Court’s decision to hear those cases will have “no impact” on the legislative process for the Equality Act. “I would just make the point that House passage sends a strong message to SCOTUS,” Hammill said.
What is the concern Christians have about the Equality Act?
As Andrew T. Walker wrote in an article for TGC, “The bill represents the most invasive threat to religious liberty ever proposed in America. Given that it touches areas of education, public accommodation, employment, and federal funding, were it to pass, its sweeping effects on religious liberty, free speech, and freedom of conscience would be both historic and also chilling.”
“Virtually no area of American life would emerge unscathed from the Equality Act’s reach,” Walker adds. “No less significant would be the long-term effects of how the law would shape the moral imagination of future generations.”
Twenty-four states have similar laws and the consequences for residents of those states have been disastrous, says Monica Burke, research assistant in the DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society at The Heritage Foundation. “These policies are not being used to promote equality,” Burke says. “Instead, they are being used as a blunt-force weapon to ban disagreement on marriage and sexuality by punishing dissenters.”
Some of the examples cited by Burke include a teacher in Virginia who was fired for failing to use a female student’s preferred masculine pronouns, and a professor in Ohio who was disciplined for doing the same. A homeless shelter for abused women in Alaska has been sued for refusing to admit a biological male, and in Illinois, California, and Vermont, foster parents are expected to provide children suffering from gender dysphoria with transition-affirming therapies over parents’ medical or moral objections.
“Every human being ought to be treated with dignity, but placing sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes in this kind of legislation would have harmful consequences,” said Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and TGC Council member.
“This legislation would make the situation worse in this country,” Moore adds, “both in terms of religious freedom and in terms of finding ways for Americans who disagree to work together for the common good.”