President Biden is urging swift passage of a far-reaching LGBT rights bill that critics say would impair religious liberty and destroy hard-fought legal protections for women, including the right to play on female-only teams.
At issue is the Equality Act, which adds sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of protected classes for education, federal funding, employment, housing, public accommodations and facilities. The bill was introduced Feb. 18 and has 223 co-sponsors – all Democrats. It is expected to pass the House, although its chances in the Senate are less certain.
“I urge Congress to swiftly pass this historic legislation,” Biden said in a statement Friday. “Every person should be treated with dignity and respect, and this bill represents a critical step toward ensuring that America lives up to our foundational values of equality and freedom for all.”
But many of the changes are controversial.
The bill would amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 – a law that was passed to confront racial discrimination – by adding “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to the list of protected classes for public places and employment. A clause in the Civil Rights Act that was written to enforce the desegregation of schools would now prohibit discrimination based on “sexual orientation and gender identity”
Further, the text of the Equality Act states: “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.”
Ryan T. Anderson, president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, said in a New York Post column Sunday that the bill would harm religious rights and women’s rights.
“Rather than finding common-sense, narrowly tailored ways to shield LGBT-identifying Americans from truly unjust discrimination, the bill would act as a sword – to persecute those who don’t embrace newfangled gender ideologies,” Anderson wrote. “It would vitiate a sex binary that is quite literally written into our genetic code and is fundamental to many of our laws, not least laws protecting the equality, safety and privacy of women.
“The Equality Act,” Anderson added, “would sacrifice the hard-won rights of women, while privileging men who identify as women. If it becomes law, such men would have a right to spend the night in battered women's shelters, disrobe in women’s locker rooms and compete on women’s sports teams – even at K-12 schools.”
In Connecticut in recent years, two high school biological boys who identify as girls won a combined 15 girls’ track state titles.
Tennis legend Martina Navratilova co-wrote a Washington Post editorial last year warning that the Equality Act, as written, “would do significant damage” to women’s sports by making “it unlawful to differentiate among girls and women in sports on the basis of sex for any purpose.”
Alliance Defending Freedom this month warned that the Equality Act “should be concerning to anyone who values religious freedom and true equality.” ADF said the Equality Act would:
- “forbid churches and religious nonprofits from requiring their employees to live out their religious beliefs about marriage, sexual morality, and the distinction between the sexes.” Churches and religious nonprofits could be “required to open their sex-specific facilities to members of the opposite sex,” ADF said.
- “threaten religious foster care and adoption agencies with closure if they operate according to their deeply held belief that the best place for a child is a home with a married mother and father.”
- “threaten creative professionals and other business owners who simply want to live and work according to their beliefs.” As an example, ADF mentioned a Christian printer in Kentucky who refused to print an LGBT pride shirt and was ordered by the local human rights commission to undergo diversity training.
- “force individuals to speak messages that violate their beliefs under the threat of punishment.” ADF referenced a Christian man who is a university professor and was disciplined for not referring to a biological male student as a woman. The student identifies as female.
Biden says the bill is needed.
“Full equality has been denied to LGBTQ+ Americans and their families for far too long,” he said, in the statement. “Despite the extraordinary progress the LGBTQ+ community has made to secure their basic civil rights, discrimination is still rampant in many areas of our society. The Equality Act provides long overdue federal civil rights protections on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, locking in critical safeguards in our housing, education, public services, and lending systems — and codifying the courage and resilience of the LGBTQ+ movement into enduring law. … No one should ever face discrimination or live in fear because of who they are or whom they love.”
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Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.