With renewed passion and a sense of progress in the endless political battle for power, Democrats have once again introduced a bill they believe they may finally have the ability to pass. The Equality Act has been a constant feature in the debate over LGBT law in the United States for some time. The act has become a symbol of LGBT achievement, recognition, and validation, replacing same-sex marriage as a rallying cry for justice and progress.
The bill would amend The Civil Rights Act of 1964 to include sexual orientation and gender identity as federally protected classes. The Human Rights Campaign activist organization states, “The patchwork nature of current laws leaves millions of people subject to uncertainty and potential discrimination that impacts their safety, their families, and their day-to-day lives.”
Despite the universal appeal of the name and its noble promises, which 69 percent of Americans support in concept, the act poses a major risk to those who value religious freedom, state independence, and women’s rights.
Could This Force Churches to Host Gay Weddings?
Gregory Angelo, a pioneer in Republican advocacy for gay rights, recently published a detailed argument titled “Don’t fall for the ‘Equality Act’,” addressing concerns about the act’s effects on religious freedom. He warns, “Don’t be fooled by the name: The Equality Act is legislation that would compromise American civil rights and religious liberty as we know it.”
The act would ban the following locations from “discriminating” against individuals based on sexual or gender identity: a “stadium or other place of or establishment that provides exhibition, entertainment, recreation, exercise, amusement, gathering, or display; any establishment that provides a good, service, or program, including a store, shopping center, online retailer or service provider, salon, bank, gas station, food bank, service or care center, shelter, travel agency, or funeral parlor, or establishment that provides health care, accounting, or legal services; any train service, bus service, car service, taxi service, airline service, station, depot, or other place of or establishment that provides transportation service.”
Most importantly, “The bill prohibits the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 from providing a claim, defense, or basis for challenging such protections.” The bill essentially nullifies federal and state religious freedom protections by handing authority to the U.S. Department of Justice to interpret and investigate claims of discrimination.
While this does not directly indicate, as Angelo writes, that churches would be forced to accommodate same-sex weddings, the language is vague enough in specifying “public accommodations” and “any establishment” to make the concern an issue. Considering the aggressiveness in which we have witnessed LGBT advocates pursue the smallest of infractions in small businesses catering to same-sex weddings, it is no longer an option to assume future advocates will honor the restraint and tolerance promised today.
As Angelo predicts, “In the run-up to the United States Supreme Court marriage equality decisions of 2013 and 2015, gay advocates such as myself promised those we disagreed with that allowing same-sex couples to marry would have no effect on them, their families, or their faith. Passage of the ‘Equality Act’ would make liars out of the lot of us.”
Fanning the Flames of Controversy
The Advocate, an LGBT legacy publication, attacked Angelo by saying his op-ed “is now being used by extremists to foster opposition.” Citing the Southern Poverty Law Center’s designation of Liberty Counsel as a “hate group,” the article warns that the organization is “encouraging followers to flood their congressional representatives with message denouncing the pro-LGBTQ bill.”
Angelo responded to the accusations and misrepresentation of his argument in a series of tweets, while clarifying the true concerns surrounding this bill, which he and I both agree is far from “pro-LGBTQ.” It seems the left simply refuses to honestly discuss what they are proposing.
The bill argues “Regular and ongoing discrimination against LGBT people, as well as women, in accessing public accommodations contributes to negative social and economic outcomes, and in the case of public accommodations operated by State and local governments, abridges individuals’ constitutional rights.” It cites “conversion therapy” as a form of “discrimination” against LGBT people.
It states without citation that, “LGBT people often face discrimination when seeking to rent or purchase housing, as well as in every other aspect of obtaining and maintaining housing.” The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development performed a survey in 2013 that tested emailing applications in 50 large cities for rentals using opposite-sex and same-sex names and reported same-sex emails received fewer responses. Citing a separate study performed by the Kaiser Family Foundation in 2001, however, only 3.8 percent of LGBT people reported experiencing discrimination in housing.
Threats to Women’s Safety
Despite advocating for protecting women’s access in public accommodation, as Abigail Shrier writes, “The Equality Act sacrifices female safety in restrooms, locker rooms and even domestic-violence shelters.” In fact, the bill very clearly states its intent in this area regarding gender identity: “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.”
The term “sex” in previous amendments to the Constitution exclusively referred to women’s rights and access, although the equality aspect meant both men and women should be treated equally. The argument now is that “sex” includes sexual orientation and gender identity, effectively nullifying sex-based protections for women and their ability to protest open access to sex-segregated spaces by men.
Finally, as Angelo perfectly describes in his article, the act is a direct affront to the original purpose of The Civil Rights Act of 1964 to protect African Americans from discrimination nationwide. “For many African-Americans, the Civil Rights Act is more than mere legislation; it holds a sacred place in our nation’s history as a moment in which Congress acted to right the terrible injustice of segregation that persisted more than a century after the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment of the Constitution.” He notes that major African American civil rights groups are absent from the list of 288 organizations supporting the bill.
LGBT People Aren’t Often Discriminated Against
I have opposed The Equality Act for a long time, and my opposition is founded on slightly different grounds than those I have cited here. My first argument, a common theme in my writing on LGBT topics, is that there simply is no need for federal LGBT protections.
Despite repeated claims, the most-cited studies of LGBT discrimination come from self-reported “Have you ever…”-style questionnaires, not firm examples. Data we have indicates workplace discrimination is incredibly rare. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission reported as of 2017 that only 4.3 percent of 1,762 complaints they received from LGBT people were found to have “reasonable cause,” with 83 percent having no legitimate basis or closed for lack of evidence.
Of Fortune 500 companies, 89 percent self-impose expansive anti-discrimination policies to protect LGBT employees. Empowering the DOJ to directly intervene in claims of LGBT discrimination, as The Equality Act would do, would simply incentivize abusive reporting and waste resources while intimidating businesses. We have seen too much evidence to doubt that small businesses would be targeted solely on the basis they are owned by Christians. The act elevates the power to bully beyond the ability for the average citizen to fight.
This Bill Would Make Discrimination Worse
Second, my opposition is in the power transfer to the federal government to determine the proper definitions and limitations of sexual and gender identity. The states currently have fewer and fewer options in self-regulation, and this bill would bind them to a centralized authority in all matters of identity politics. As the Heritage Foundation warns, “the Equality Act would further inequality by penalizing everyday Americans for their beliefs about marriage and biological sex.”
To be clear, this bill would create a protected class based on belief alone while providing the federal government the power to punish disbelief. Regardless of the promised benefits, as an American citizen who values liberty, I simply cannot support such a massive abuse of power.
Finally, the bill is merely a stepping stone for codifying progressive beliefs into absolute legal standards the average American will have no ability to challenge. Already the language is outdated, as it limits “sexual orientation” to heterosexual, homosexual, and bisexual. The LGBT designation currently includes dozens of sexual orientations that fall well outside of these bounds. How long until The Equality Act is accused of not being inclusive enough and further revisions are needed?
Do we want the federal government controlled by the obsessive micromanaging of intersectional identity politics without boundaries? It is not an understatement to recognize that this bill is a culture-changing move and it will be exceptionally difficult to recover from its impact.
For years I and many others have tried to warn of this power grab, and unfortunately the Republican Party has paid little attention to our concerns. The name alone is intimidating, as no one wants to oppose the “Equality” Act, but Democrats have proven they will push forward the moment they have the slightest advantage in doing so.
We cannot shrug our shoulders and wait for the next opportunity to fight back. Without direct opposition to this bill, much of what we have fought for to protect freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and women’s rights as a party over the last decade will be completely nullified.