This article was originally published on Advocates for Truth as “The Equality Act.”
On February 25, 2021, the House of Representatives passed the Equality Act, which seeks to add sexual orientation and gender identity protections to existing civil rights legislation. This has raised concerns about conflicts between these newly recognized rights of LGBTQ Americans with the religious liberty rights of Christian (and some Muslim and Jewish) businesses, schools, nonprofits, and even places of worship. In reality, anyone who holds to a traditional view of sexuality and marriage could come into conflict with the Equality Act should it pass. In light of this, how should Christians evaluate and respond to the Equality Act?
What Does the Equality Act Say?
The majority of the bill consists of replacing the word “sex” with the phrase “sex (including sexual orientation and gender identity)” in past civil rights legislation like the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This past legislation was originally meant to prevent discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, marital status, age, disability, etc. The Equality Act seeks to add sexual orientation and gender identity to the list. As a result, the same aspects of public life covered in the original civil rights bills, including business, employment, government functions, education, healthcare, housing, juries, etc. will also have to treat sexual orientation and gender identity as federally protected classes.
Adding sexual orientation and gender identity would lead to numerous conflicts with the religious liberty rights of many Americans who hold to a traditional view of sexuality and gender. Alliance Defending Freedom, a Christian legal firm, explains some of the conflicts that we have already seen (without the Equality Act) and others that we will see (if it passes). This includes:
- Forbidding religious nonprofits from requiring their employees to abide by the organizations’ beliefs about gender and sexuality.
- Forcing these same organizations to accommodate those with a certain gender identity into sex-specific spaces, such as women’s shelters.
- Threatening to close religious foster care and adoption agencies for abiding by their deeply held beliefs that children should be with a father and mother.
- Shutting down creative professionals in the marriage industry for not creating material for gay weddings, and compelling businesses to engage in forced speech supporting messages against their conscience.
- Punishing teachers and others in public education for not using the preferred pronouns of students.
- Undermining women’s sports by allowing transgender women (i.e. men) to compete in women’s competitions.
- Coercing doctors to provide gender transition surgeries who are morally opposed to performing such services.
This is just a short list. In addition to replacing the word “sex” to include sexual orientation and gender identity, the Equality Act also mentions 3 other provisions that should concern Christians.
- First, the definition of sex is expanded to also include “pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical condition.” While this might sound innocuous, the Heritage Foundation points out that, “Both the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the 3rd Circuit Court have interpreted ‘related medical condition’ to include abortion.” Thus, by expanding the definition of sex, a healthcare provider (such as a Catholic hospital) could potentially not refuse to provide abortion services or for doctors with moral objections to abortion to refuse to perform them without being charged with discrimination. This is a huge overreach of government power.
- Second, the Equality Act specifically mentions that “an individual shall not be denied access to a shared facility, including a restroom, a locker room, and a dressing room, that is in accordance with the individual’s gender identity.” This means that men or women would have unequivocal access to use these spaces to undress, shower, and engage with the opposite sex in very intimate and vulnerable situations, all on the basis of their proclaimed gender identity.
- Third, the act 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.” If the Equality Act were to pass, “covered title” would now include sexual orientation and gender identity. In other words, the Equality Act undermines our ability to use RFRA as a legal defense to protect our religious liberty rights. Those who have religious or conscientious objections to these new sexual ethics and civil rights could not legally refuse to obey them without consequence.
To be fair, there are certain provisions in this bill which Christians could support. Whether one identifies as LGBTQ or not, no one should be discriminated against in things like credit applications, jury selection, or other forms of invidious discrimination. Even in employment and housing, the vast majority of cases should have nothing to do with whether one identifies as LGBTQ. While there should be discussion surrounding how to protect these individuals where needed, the Equality Act reaches much further than it should and actively strips away the religious liberty rights of Americans who simply wish to live in accordance with their conscience.
What Does the Bible Say?
Scripture is clear that God has made all people, including those who identify as LGBTQ, in his image (Genesis 1:26, Genesis 9:6). Everyone deserves to be treated with love and respect, and we should ensure that people are treated fairly under the law.
At the same time, God also made humanity male and female (Genesis 1:27). Jesus himself reaffirms this in Matthew 19:4-6, quoting from Genesis:
“He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”
From this understanding of gender and sexuality, Scripture likewise refers to homosexuality as sinful (Leviticus 18:22, 20:13; Romans 1:26-27; 1 Corinthians 6:9-11; 1 Timothy 1:8-11). Many have tried to interpret the Bible differently and make it say something that it does not, but Scripture is plain when it comes to these fundamental principles about gender and sexuality.
Thus, the question becomes how to work both of these principles out in a political context. Such a task is not easy and requires much wisdom and discernment. Christians, while agreeing on certain basic principles, might disagree on specifics. Here are some of the principles on which we should agree:
- Affirming that gender is binary and determined biologically. Men and women are biologically distinct and should have different accommodations in the law based on those differences, whether we are talking about having gender-segregated sporting teams, locker rooms, bathrooms, etc. While we can certainly have compassion for those who struggle with gender dysphoria (those who feel that their perceived gender is different from their biological sex), we should not make accommodations based solely on that person’s claimed gender identity. As many feminists have noted, such arrangements will ultimately harm women.
- Affirming that marriage is between one man and one woman. Although the Obergefell decision legalized same-sex marriage nationwide, Christians should still advocate for marriage to be treated as a union between one man and one woman where possible.
- Protecting religious liberty and the ability to obey our conscience. Even if someone disagrees with these first two principles, everyone should agree that conscience is not something that should be violated unless absolutely necessary. Scripture says that we must honor our conscience and that we will give an account before God (Acts 24:16, Romans 14:1-23, 1 Timothy 1:5, 1 Peter 4:5). Faith-based organizations should be protected from violating their consciences regarding gender and sexuality issues. On the other hand, we can acknowledge that our consciences aren’t always perfect (1 Corinthians 8:7, 1 Timothy 4:2, Titus 1:15). If someone’s conscience has to be violated by the government for some higher purpose or truth, it should take the least restrictive means possible like the Religious Freedom Restoration Act demands. The Equality Act fails on both counts: it is neither based on a higher truth or purpose nor does it take the least restrictive means (despite its claims).
The Equality Act is one of the more dangerous pieces of legislation in recent history. Gender and sexuality touch fundamental realities concerning what it means to be human and how we are to function as a society. The Equality Act undermines both of these aspects and will lead to further cultural deterioration as well as set the stage for greater violations of religious liberty rights in the future. While we need to have conversations about how best to balance civil rights for Americans who identify as LGBTQ with religious liberty rights, the Equality Act is not the best way forward. It should be opposed.