What just happened?

Yesterday, Chris Stewart, a Republican congressman from Utah, introduced the Fairness for All Act (FFA), legislation that attempts to find a balance between religious liberty and sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) laws. The FFA is a compromise bill co-sponsored by nine Congressional Republicans and offered as an alternative to the Democrat-supported Equality Act.

The FFA would amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to include sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes, but also provide some protection for religious freedom. For example, the legislation would include exceptions for medical providers with religious objections to providing transition procedures (such as sex-reassignment surgery) to transgender patients. The bill would also limit transgender access to some gender-specific spaces, such as bathrooms. The bill would also protect certain freedoms of some religious organizations, such as churches, adoption and foster care services, and educational institutions.

“All of God’s children, regardless of sexual orientation or religion, deserve dignity, respect, and the right to pursue happiness,” Stewart said in a press release. “This legislation allows us to settle the legal questions and get back to the business of loving our neighbors.”

What are SOGI laws?

SOGI laws are legislation, at the state or federal level, that attempt to codify both “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” (SOGI) as protected classes, similar to sex, race, and religion. To date, about 20 of the 50 states have enacted SOGI protections for employment and public accommodations. Earlier this year, the U.S. House of Representative also passed a federal SOGI law called the Equality Act (this legislation has not passed in the U.S. Senate).

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. (See also: The FAQs: What Christians Should Know About the Equality Act.)

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 Fairness for All Act?

This legislation is supported by several religious groups, including the Seventh-day Adventist Church, the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, the National Association of Evangelicals, and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Who opposes the Fairness for All Act?

The FFA is opposed by several conservative and Christian groups, including the Alliance Defending Freedom, the American College of Pediatricians, Concerned Women for America, the Christian Medical Association, and the Heritage Foundation.

Many LGBT organizations also oppose the FFA because it includes exemptions for religious liberty, which many of them oppose in principle. “The so-called Fairness for All Act is an unacceptable, partisan vehicle that erodes existing civil rights protections based on race, sex and religion, while sanctioning discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) people,” Human Rights Campaign president Alphonso David said. “For LGBTQ people living at the intersection of multiple marginalized identities, this bill is a double whammy of dangerous rollbacks and discriminatory carve-outs.”

What is the Christian argument in favor of the SOGI laws?

Some Christians believe that since SOGI laws are inevitable, we should attempt to carve out some exemptions that would protect the religious freedom of some groups, such as churches or Christian colleges.

As Shapri D. LoMaglio wrote in CCCU Magazine, a publication of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities,

[The CCCU] believe that if the right balance can be struck, Fairness for All could preserve more freedom for more Americans into the future. We see this as a God-honoring pursuit in the pluralistic society we live in—a pursuit that protects religious freedom for all, including our members, while acknowledging and respecting the human dignity of all people, even if we disagree.

While many in our country are deeply religious, we are not a theocracy, and therefore we must find a legislative path that allows each person to live according to their beliefs and convictions. Fairness for All seeks to protect legislatively both those whose religious convictions about marriage and gender differ from the U.S. government’s and those who affirm LGBTQ expressions of marriage and gender.

Why do many Christians oppose SOGI laws?

The primary reason Christians oppose SOGI laws are because they are contrary to the common good and human flourishing. While some would agree with Stewart that we should “get back to the business of loving our neighbors,” many more understand that we cannot adequately love our neighbors while denying God’s moral standards and embracing LGBT policies. Endorsing SOGI laws is conceding that we are violating the dignity of our neighbor by, for instance, not agreeing that a man can be a woman or that homosexual behavior is moral.

As Ryan T. Anderson and Robert P. George explain:

[SOGI] bills favor one side of a cultural debate—the culturally and politically powerful LGBT lobby—at the expense of citizens of goodwill who believe that we are created male and female and that marriage unites a man and a woman. While these bills have some superficially appealing aspects, they would only increase cultural tensions, further empower an already powerful special-interest lobby, and impose unjustly on [citizens] many different faiths and all walks of life. All citizens should oppose unjust discrimination, but SOGI laws are not the way to do that.

As Anderson added in an article for the Heritage Foundation, “Where enacted, SOGI laws are frequently used as swords to persecute people with unpopular beliefs, rather than as shields to protect people from unjust discrimination.” Sarah Kramer of Alliance Defending Freedom also notes, “At its core, FFA proposals surrender essential, constitutionally guaranteed individual and institutional freedoms and empower the government to discriminate against its citizens in exchange for narrow carve-outs for religious freedom and perhaps other protections of uncertain scope.”

Will the Fairness Act be passed by Congress?

Because the FFA is opposed by both conservatives and progressives, it is unlikely to pass either the House or Senate. But while this bill is unlikely to become law, its introduction signals a shift within the GOP toward a greater acceptance of the idea that sexual orientation and gender identity should be protected classes on par with sex, race, and religion.