The Equality Act
This research has been done and this article has been written in response to those who have expressed deep concern over the Equality Act, a bill that is now before the United States Congress.
The Equality Act, if passed, would amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (including titles II, III, IV, VI, VII, and IX) to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity in employment, housing, public accommodations, education, federally funded programs, credit, and jury service.
Much like the Supreme Court’s June 2020 ruling in the Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia decision, which protects gay and transgender people in matters of employment, the Equality Act broadly defines sex discrimination to include sexual orientation and gender identity, adding “pregnancy, childbirth, or a related medical condition of an individual, as well as because of sex-based stereotypes.” The bill also defines this to include the intersex community.
While various similar bills have been introduced since the 1970’s, the modern version of the Equality Act was first proposed in the 114th United States Congress. During the 116th Congress, it passed the United States House of Representatives on May 17, 2019 in a bipartisan 236–173 vote. However, the United States Senate did not act upon the bill after receiving it. On February 18, 2021, the act was reintroduced in the 117th Congress. The House passed the act by a vote of 224 to 206 on February 25, 2021, with support from three Republicans. The bill then moved on to the Senate for consideration.
While not yet passed into law, the Equality Act continually inches closer to being passed, and each time it becomes more expansive in what it entails. The latest version of the Equality Act is a grave threat to religious liberty, especially for religious institutions (churches, schools, hospitals, camps, sports, etc.) which hold to traditional views regarding gender and sexuality. There are wide-reaching implications. Also, the Equality Act does not stand alone. It builds upon and forms the basis for other legislation that has come through the executive branch (i.e., executive orders) and/or the judicial branch (i.e., SCOTUS cases).
Much work has been done to survey books, reports, articles, audios, and videos in order to prepare two resources for the friends of Lutheran CORE.
The first of these resources is a list of quotations from a wide selection of sources, which answer common questions. A link to that resource can be found here.
The second is a resource list for more information on the subject. A link to that list can be found here.
Although some information is included about the general implications (i.e., the impact on businesses or adoption agencies), the specific focus of the two resources is on the implications for religious freedom, both for churches specifically and for faith-based institutions generally (i.e., religious schools, religious camps, etc.).
Please note that the focus is intentionally on religious rather than political concerns.
Regrettably, there is little information, at this point, about what faith-based (and secular) institutions can meaningfully do to fight back against this legislation and its implications. The one recurring proposal is to support alternative legislation, such as the Fairness for All Act. This Act would implement similar LGBTQ+ rights as the Equality Act in the secular and business worlds, but would include specific protections of religious liberties for faith-based non-profits. Although it is by no means the focus of this report, some information about the Fairness for All Act has been included.
We would particularly recommend to you two resources, both of which can be found under Reports on the resource list.
The first is the document, How Religious Organizations Can Understand the Equality Act and Discern Next Steps,by Caleb Kaltenbach of the Messy Grace Group. It is quite comprehensive, at over 100 pages, and includes not only practical information about the law and its implications, but also suggestions for what churches can do. In addition it presents religious, legal, and moral arguments against the Equality Act.
The second is the “Protecting Your Ministry from Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Lawsuits” guide jointly released by the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod and Alliance Defending Freedom. This document specifically concerns protecting churches from lawsuits. At this time, the guide has yet to be updated to reflect the Equality Act, but it is useful in drawing attention to the sorts of things which churches will have to worry about, now and into the future, as lawsuits regarding LGBTQ concerns arise.
I am reminded of how Jesus said in Matthew 10: 16, “I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” We certainly are living and doing ministry in the midst of wolves. May we be what Jesus has called and empowered us to be.