A significant expansion of the 1964 Civil Rights Act that would legally enshrine special protections for persons who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer (LGBTQ) is drawing support from several mainline Protestant church agencies.
The Equality Act (H.R. 5), passed the U.S. House of Representatives on February 18 and is expected to receive a vote in the Senate, where it’s outcome is not yet clear. Despite its innocuous title, the bill would place LGBTQ identifying persons within the same specially protected categories as racial minorities. It has the support of the Episcopal Church, United Church of Christ, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and United Methodist public policy offices.
Roman Catholic and Baptist officials have expressed concern that the legislation would single out behavior for special protection, rather than persons with innate traits such as race, biological sex or disability.
Extra protections for sexual orientation could come at the expense of religious and ideological freedom to disagree with queer ideologies. The bill is specifically designed to overrule the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) to make it clear that religious conscience is no defense against the progressive agenda.
One example of this comes in the marketplace. Jack Philips, owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop in Colorado, became famous as the defendant in the famous Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission. The case revolved around whether or not Philips could be legally compelled to produce a custom cake with a message celebrating a same-sex marriage.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission had explicitly religiously discriminated against Philips by referring to his Christianity as a source of bigotry. It may have been only a temporary victory: if the Equality Act passes, any baker, florist or photographer who declines participation in same-sex weddings on religious grounds will be once again vulnerable to lawsuits.
Hospitals and medical professionals would also be required to perform sex-change (“gender reassignment”) surgeries and other treatments against their moral scruples. In California and New Jersey, for example, Catholic hospitals have been sued for refusing to perform hysterectomies on otherwise healthy women that desire surgery as part of a gender transition. Another Catholic Hospital in Washington settled out of court following an ACLU lawsuit for refusing to perform a double mastectomy on a gender dysphoric sixteen-year-old girl.
H.R. 5 would effectively end any debate regarding access to restrooms and locker rooms. Spaces that were previously specifically and exclusively set aside for women, whether a bathroom facility or an all- women’s track team, would be mandated to be open to biological males. For example, at the Connecticut State High School Track Championships two biological males easily took first and second place.
Perhaps most horrifying of all, parents in Ohio lost custody of their 17-year-old daughter for refusing to place her on testosterone injections. This is despite the fact that 80-95% of people who experience gender dysphoria as children no longer feel distressed in their bodies after puberty.
Despite these problems several mainline denominations, including the Episcopal Church, The United Methodist Church, The United Church of Christ and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America have all come out in support of the bill, according to Freedom for All Americans, an LGBTQ activism organization.
“The Episcopal Church fully supports people of all sexual orientations and gender identities as children of God and recognizes their entitlement to full civil rights… Convention has supported similar efforts to the Equality Act such as the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which proposed including sexual orientation and gender identity-based protections in federal employment law,” read a statement from the Office of Government Relations, the Episcopal Church’s public policy arm.
The United Methodist Church’s government relations agency, the General Board of Church and Society (GBCS), also came out in support of the Equality Act in 2019, when it also passed the House but was not taken up by the Senate. The ELCA also lists the Equality Act as one of many different political expressions it advocates for.
“We applaud this historic legislation,” said the Rev. Amy E. Reumann, Director of ELCA Advocacy, “and are encouraged as it moves us towards a government that protects and promotes the equal rights of every person.”
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that these progressive denominations support the Equality Act. The Episcopal Church has supported increased legal protections for persons who identify as transgender since 2009 when “General Convention passed four resolutions supporting the lives and ministries of transgender people both within and outside the church, two of which urged support of transgender equality at the federal, state, and municipal levels” according to the Episcopal Office of Government Relations.
Progressive support for legislation like the Equality Act goes back for more than a decade. Though framed in a language of tolerance for those who are different, the bill is actually authoritarian in its legal delegitimization of anyone holding allegedly backward views of biological sex and gender.
Even on the basis of pluralism the bill is indefensible. After all, in a pluralistic society LGBTQ people and traditional Christians would be free to go their own ways so long as they don’t interfere with each other. Instead, with this bill there is only one defensible viewpoint.