Democratic lawmakers reintroduced The Equality Act in the U.S. House of Representatives on Feb. 18, staking their hopes on holding small majorities in both chambers of Congress.
If passed, the bill would amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to include “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” in the list of protected classes, and would also invalidate the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act and similar state laws that aim to define religious liberty provisions.
The last version of the Equality Act passed the House in May 2019 in a bipartisan 236–173 vote but stalled in the GOP-led Senate. It is likely to pass again in the House, which still has a Democratic majority, but passage in the Senate, even with slight majority, is not certain. Vice President Kamala Harris has the power to break any ties in the otherwise evenly split upper chamber, but it would take a vote of 60 senators to overcome a filibuster. It is unknown whether 10 Republicans would agree to back the legislation.
During the 2020 election campaign, the Biden administration promised to fast-track the sweeping legislation, gaining applause from LGBTQ activists.
The Equality Act would allow male-bodied transgender women to utilize women’s private spaces such as bathrooms, locker rooms, shelters and sports leagues; employers would be forced to provide health care insurance coverage for hormone treatment and/or sex-reassignment surgery for individuals with gender dysphoria; and parents would be federally banned from seeking counseling for their children struggling with unwanted same-sex attraction or gender confusion.
“Our nation’s laws should respect the constitutionally guaranteed freedoms of every American citizen,” said Kristen Waggoner, general counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom. “All of us—regardless of sex or any other classification—deserve better than the profound inequality that the conscience-crushing, deceptively titled ‘Equality Act’ reintroduced by Congress promises.
“This proposed legislation punishes and marginalizes people who hold decent and honorable beliefs about marriage or dare to believe the scientific evidence regarding the physical differences between men and women. The Equality Act would deny female athletes fair competition in sports, ignore women’s unique health needs and force vulnerable girls to share intimate spaces with men who identify as female.”
Andrew Walker, associate professor of Christian Ethics at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, suggested the bill should in fact be called the “In-Equality Act.” “Its intention is to destroy viewpoint neutrality and make Christian ethics equatable to Jim Crow-style bigotry,” he posted to Twitter.
“Many in our nation respectfully disagree on important matters such as marriage and human sexuality,” Waggoner added. “Unfortunately, the Equality Act criminalizes these fundamental beliefs held by major faith groups since the dawn of time and, instead, demands absolute uniformity of thought. The freedom to live peaceably according to our beliefs is a fundamental right, resting in our human dignity and codified by the First Amendment. The Equality Act dares to treat reasonable people as hostile to the state and unfit to participate in the marketplace. Our nation can and must do better.”
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