Following the Supreme Court’s landmark decision June 15 (popularly referred to as the “Bostock decision”) to expand the meaning of sex in Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act to include gender identity and sexual orientation, Senate Democrats have renewed their push to quickly pass the Equality Act through the upper chamber of Congress.
On June 18, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), the chief sponsor of the bill, asked for unanimous consent to move forward with the Equality Act, which he said would guarantee “the opportunity for every individual to thrive in our nation.”
But the measure was blocked by a trio of Senate Republicans—Sen. Mike Lee of Utah, Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley and Sen. James Lankford of Oklahoma.
“We don’t oppose equality,” said Lankford. “What we do oppose is when, through legislation, you take the rights of one [group] and dismiss the rights of others and say, ‘Your rights don’t count.’”
“Neither the Bostock decision nor the Equality Act takes care to ensure that religious employers will be treated fairly,” noted Lee.
Hawley reminded legislators that in 1993 both houses of Congress, in nearly unanimous votes, passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which “ensures that interests in religious freedom are federally protected.” If the Equality Act were to be signed into law as is, it would “gut” key provisions of RFRA, Hawley said.
The Equality Act would allow male-bodied trans 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; parents would be federally banned from seeking counseling for their children struggling with unwanted same-sex attraction or gender confusion.
“The Equality Act says ‘you no longer have the right to disagree,’” Lankford said.
Kristen Waggoner, general counsel for the religious freedom law firm Alliance Defending Freedom, chided Senate Democrats in a statement for their attempt to bring the Equality Act up for a vote.
“Emboldened by the U.S. Supreme Court’s problematic decision [June 15], some activists want to con Americans into believing that disagreement on important matters such as marriage and human sexuality is a form of discrimination that requires the government to enforce one view over another, but that is antithetical to a free society,” Waggoner said.
“As Sens. Josh Hawley, James Lankford and Mike Lee rightly explained, this bill undermines human dignity by threatening the fundamental freedoms of speech, religion and conscience that the First Amendment guarantees for every citizen,” she added. “Americans deserve better than the profound inequality that this intolerant, deceptively titled legislation offers.”
Above: Sen. Josh Hawley speaks during a U.S. Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., on June 10, 2020
Photo: dpa/Alamy Live News