The U.S. House of Representatives last week passed the Equality Act, landmark legislation that would protect members of the LGBTQ community from discrimination in key areas such as employment, housing, public accommodations, public education, federal funding, credit and financing and jury service. Protections like this already cover millions of Americans, and the act would extend them to members of the LGBTQ community.
Religious Right groups aren’t happy about this and are bombarding the public with their usual mix of half-truths and hysteria.
Before the vote, the American Family Association put out a short video featuring Tim Wildmon, president of the group, and two of his sidekicks. Wildmon said of the bill, “It is poison, and it’s going to basically destroy religious liberties and religious freedom.”
Wildmon also claimed, falsely, that the bill contains no exemption for houses of worship. This is disingenuous. The Equality Act would build upon the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which already includes protections and exemptions for houses of worship.
Over at the Family Research Council (FRC), Mary Beth Waddell, a senior legislative assistant for the group, asserts that the Equality Act “would massively overhaul our federal civil rights framework in order to mandate special privileges in the private sector for sexual orientation and gender identity” and insists that the bill “undercuts our foundational freedom of religion.” (Waddell called the bill the “in-Equality Act.” These right wingers are so clever!)
Sorry, FRC, but being free from discrimination is hardly a “special privilege.” In fact, the bill merely adds sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of protected classes that already exist in the Civil Rights Act. I’ll say it again: The act would give LGBTQ people the same protections that many other Americans take for granted.
Focus on the Family (FOF) frames its objection to the act in specifically religious terms: “Christians believe what Genesis describes and Jesus taught: God created two types of humans – male and female,” FOF asserts on its website.
The group goes on to insist, “We understand that Christian teaching about marriage has profound spiritual significance, as the husband and wife relationship reflects the relationship between Christ and His Church. … [T]he ‘Equality Act’ would teach that Christian thinking about male-female differences, marriage, parenting, family and sexuality are rooted in prejudice – rather than in years of wisdom, reason and biblical exegesis.”
In other words, FOF is saying that the government shouldn’t pass the Equality Act because it offends FOF’s narrow interpretation of Christianity. That might fly in a theocracy but not a secular republic like the United States.
Kristen Waggoner, an attorney with the Alliance Defending Freedom, asserted that the Equality Act “would also force Americans to participate in events and speak messages that violate their core beliefs, all in the name of an ‘equality’ that tolerates no dissenters.”
Actually, what the act would do (in part) is make it clear that the owners of businesses are expected to serve the entire public – hardly a radical notion. We are long past the days when a restaurant, hotel or store could summarily refuse to serve people on the basis of race or religion. Now it’s time to extend those protections to members of the LGBTQ community as well.
Franklin Graham, James Dobson and a bevy of other Religious Right leaders sent a letter to House and Senate leaders arguing, “Not only is it incompatible with God’s Word (the Bible) and the historic teaching of the church, but the Equality Act is also riddled with threats to religious liberty and the sanctity of human life.”
The problem with that is, Congress isn’t supposed to legislate based on what Graham and Dobson believe is “God’s word” or “historic” church teachings. In fact, many religious leaders disagree that the act violates “God’s word” and have called for passage of the legislation.
Dobson went completely around the bend after the act's passage. In a column, he compared passage of the act to the Supreme Court's Dred Scott decision and wrote, "Let me speak candidly and passionately to people of faith throughout these United States of America. We must not remain silent as our historic liberties are gutted by Democrats and their friends in the LGBT movement. They will enslave us if they prevail."
What we’re seeing is a familiar pattern. Every time we try to expand rights in this country, reactionary Religious Right organizations start screaming that the sky is falling and make outrageous claims. (Remember how they insisted that if marriage equality became the law of the land, religious leaders would be forced to officiate at same-sex weddings? The Supreme Court upheld marriage equality in 2015, and how many times has that happened? Zero.)
The Equality Act is designed to ensure that no one is treated like a second-class citizen because of someone else’s religion. It would put a stop to discrimination in many cases while leaving religious freedom intact. You can learn more about what the act would really do – and why Americans United supports it – here.
(Photo: Supporters of the Equality Act rally outside the U.S. Capitol)