President Joe Biden, only the second Catholic to be elected president, makes much of his religious bona fides. But in the wake of his sweeping Executive Order on gender identity and sexual orientation protections, his aggressive moves on abortion, and the appointments of particular cabinet officials, his expressions of faith ring particularly hollow.
But while the dispatches from President Biden’s left-bent Washington have been disconcerting in these past few weeks, the Equality Act—and Biden’s ardent promise to get it enacted it in his first 100 days—would surpass them all.
The Senate did not take up the bill after it passed in the House in May 2019. But with Democrats in control of both chambers and the White House, the bill is more likely than ever to become law. Perceiving the wind at their backs post-Bostock v. Clayton County (last year’s U.S. Supreme Court case that forbids employer-based discrimination on account of gender), the Human Rights Campaign trumpeted the Equality Act’s likelihood of passage barely days after the page had turned on the 2021 calendar, though even more moderate Senators have expressed reservations about the bill.
Just how ambitious is the Equality Act? It makes a stunning fifty-nine substantive changes to longstanding federal laws, including the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Government Employee Rights Act of 1991, the Congressional Accountability Act of 1995, the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978, the Fair Housing Act, the Civil Rights Act of 1968, the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, and even the Jury Selection & Services Act. These are laws addressing public education, public accommodations, public facilities, housing, employment, federal grants and loans, how juries are selected, and transactions involving credit.
The Act adds “sex” to some titles like “public accommodations,” and adds “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” in nearly all federal law, while also greatly expanding the scope of public accommodations. Originally and narrowly limited to restaurants, hotels, theaters, and other establishments (a function of efforts to prevent the rejection of racial minorities in public places during the dark days of segregation), the definition of public accommodation under the Act would be unilaterally expanded to include “any establishment that provides a good, service, or program.” And it would include “a store, shopping center, online retailer or service provider, salon, bank, gas station, food bank, service or care center, shelter, travel agency, or funeral parlor, or establishment that provides health care, accounting, or legal services.”
Particularly targeted by this sweeping bill are (1) biological women, (2) religious Americans, and (3) parents. If you happen to be a religiously observant biological woman who is also a parent (as I am), this bill portends the assassination of not only what you believe, but who you are, and what your children learn.
Think the Equality Act won’t affect you? Think that “equality” sounds anodyne enough? After all, Americans don’t want discrimination against anyone—LGBTQ or otherwise.
Everyone should be able to enjoy the blessings and benefits of liberty secured to Americans by the U.S. constitutional republic, yes. The beauty of the United States is that it is unparalleled in the freedom it affords its citizens. But it’s for precisely this reason that Americans don’t want the poison that the Equality Act proffers: forced speech, coerced action, biased curricula, junk science, and the gutting of protections for religious beliefs. Every American should be very concerned.
Perhaps Democratic leaders digesting the mounting opposition to the Equality Act would do well to understand what Americans don’t want.
Americans don’t want their rights of conscience and free exercise eviscerated. But under the Act, Christian bakers would no longer be able to abstain from producing messaging and materials contrary with the Bible’s view of marriage, which the Act refers to as a “sex stereotype.” Catholic foster agencies could not choose only married, heterosexual parents as foster parents in line with Catholic teaching. The Equality Act decimates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA)’s effect in operation of any of the above laws, with the text explicitly specifying: “The Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (42 U.S.C. 2000bb et seq.) shall not provide a claim concerning, or a defense to a claim under, a covered title, or provide a basis for challenging the application or enforcement of a covered title.” With no conscience protections whatsoever, the Equality Act would have dictated opposite outcomes for both the Little Sisters of the Poor and Hobby Lobby at the Supreme Court when they sought relief from the burdensome contraception mandates of Obamacare.
Americans don’t want their children indoctrinated with the belief that biology is fungible and can be manipulated for partisan purposes. Nor do Americans want to be fed universal Marxist dicta on how religious folks are bigots. But under the Act, all educational institutions—yes, even religious ones—would be subject to “gender identity” protections in sports, bathrooms, and sex ed, among others.
And while the federal government usually eschews involvement in curricular matters, the regulatory overlords of this administration could (through the federal courts or by tying federal funding to the adoption of uniform curricular “standards,” the way Obama’s Department of Education did with Common Core) impose a nationwide mandate to incorporate sexual orientation and gender identity into the curriculum in all public schools.
Americans don’t want their daughters or their mothers sharing private spaces, sports teams, or shelters with biological men who “identity” as female. Americans are aware of the fact that settled science recognizes principles of incontrovertible biology and a sex binary, and no one is born in the “wrong” body. Yet, under the Equality Act, the neighborhood shopping mall would become a public accommodation, with gender-neutral bathrooms open to all. Girls’ track teams and girls’ athletic scholarships would be open to biological males. Employers, charities, and medical providers would be forced to pay for or perform sex-reassignment surgeries. And biological men would be admitted to female-only battered women or homeless shelters.
Civil rights legislation that establishes a hierarchy of rights, a super-protected class of individuals, or elevates sexual politics over first and foundational principles must be defeated. The Equality Act is a papered contradiction, demonstrating just how unequal religious, or female, or dissenting Americans are. It is a blueprint for fast-tracking a constitutional republic toward socialism. Every American should be very concerned.
That the bill boasts 223 Democrat co-sponsors in the House (and no Republicans) indicates just how partisan it is.
That the bill states, “Women also have faced discrimination…including sexual harassment, differential pricing for substantially similar products and services, and denial of services because they are pregnant or breastfeeding”—and yet includes within its protections men who identify as women, who cannot breastfeed and cannot get pregnant—indicates just how out of touch the bill is.
That the bill guts faith-based protections for religious Americans, those who subscribe to a Judeo-Christian ethic that dictates a sex binary, recognizes the value of unborn lives, or establishes marriage as one man and one woman indicates just how hostile the bill is to religiously observant Americans.
The Equality Act imposes nationalized group-think, and worse, group-act. Americans of sound thinking who value the principles of liberty and conscience on which their nation was founded should oppose it.
The next generation is counting on it.
Sarah Parshall Perry is a Legal Fellow in the Meese Center for Legal and Judicial Studies at The Heritage Foundation (heritage.org).