How should Christians view the Equality Act?
Throughout the nearly 20-year history of GotQuestions.org, questions related to homosexuality and transgenderism have been exceedingly common. We strive to answer such questions compassionately and biblically. “Speaking the truth in love” and “with gentleness and respect” is our goal with every answer (see Ephesians 4:15 and 1 Peter 3:15).
The U.S. House of Representatives recently passed the Equality Act. The bill is now currently waiting debate and/or modifications in the Senate. Examining every nuance of any bill is beyond the scope of a blog post. There are ample ongoing discussions assessing its implications. I strongly encourage you to read the Equality Act (H.R.5) and research what others are saying about it and how it would impact civil rights. Below is my understanding of and reaction to what the act intends and the effects it would have.
The Equality Act is promoted as a way to prevent discrimination against persons identifying as LGBTQ. The bill, if signed into law, would amend the 1964 Civil Rights Act by adding sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of protected classes.
In addition to expanding civil rights to include sexual orientation and gender expression, the Equality Act explicitly exempts itself from the provisions of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) of 1993, a law that protects religious expression. Overriding the RFRA would replace current measures that ensure a sensible balance between discrimination claims and religious belief with a nearly absolute preference for secular views. Essentially, the Equality Acts says, “Your religious views do not matter. On anything even remotely related to homosexuality or transgenderism, you must submit no matter what your faith says about the issues.”
My biggest concern with the Equality Act is that it represents a drastic overreach. Christians have debated the extent to which they should support civil rights protections for sexual expression (Romans 13:1–7; 14:1), and there are biblically valid reasons to both endorse and resist such measures. It is crucial to note that very few Christian organizations object to laws mandating “basic service” interactions. Almost all faith-affirming groups and businesses freely allow LGBTQ persons as customers, patients, or students, and have few, if any, qualms about those interactions being legally protected (1 Corinthians 5:9–11). Most Christians do not object to restaurants serving transgender customers; banks offering home loans to homosexual couples; or LGBTQ persons being allowed to shop in a clothing store, stay in a motel, get a haircut, participate freely in economic activity, or receive medical care, etc. But the Equality Act does not stop there; rather, it seeks to expand, by a considerable margin, the areas in which discrimination protections apply.
The Equality Act would not merely protect the civil rights of LGBTQ persons. It would effectively force endorsement of and cooperation with every aspect of the unbiblical view of sexuality, marriage, and gender. Rather than require religious persons to make reasonable accommodations, the Equality Act would effectively nullify their conscience. Abstaining from that which is contrary to sincerely held beliefs would be disallowed. A business that unbegrudgingly sells to LGBTQ persons but declines to make a specialized product promoting same-sex marriage, for instance, would be subject to prosecution under the Equality Act, with little recourse.
This is not a “slippery slope” argument or even a theoretical concern. The Equality Act is federal; many states already have their own versions of such a law. And those state regulations have already been used to punish Christian businesses, charities, and churches, even when those organizations do not refuse “basic services” to LGBTQ-identifying persons.
Religious organizations rightly fear that the overly broad language of the Equality Act would force them to host events or support lifestyles directly counter to their faith. But alarm over the Equality Act is not limited to Christians or religious organizations. Secular critics have also expressed deep concerns. Women’s rights activists note the Equality Act contradicts the primary purpose of Title IX protections for things like women’s sports, by allowing biological males to compete against biological females for scholarships and awards. Shelters, restrooms, changing rooms, and other spaces would be forced to admit any person no matter their biological sex. Under the Equality Act, medical professionals would be required to actively participate in elective surgeries or treatments contrary to their convictions, even if principles guiding their convictions are entirely based on medical science.
And that’s not all. The Equality Act could be used to punish pastors, counselors, and parents for exercising their free speech rights. Any statement against homosexuality or transgenderism would be grounds for a discrimination lawsuit. To advise a person with gender dysphoria to seek counseling instead of gender reassignment would be illegal. The Equality Act elevates gender identity, which is not genetic, to a higher level than race, which is genetic, in terms of civil rights. The list of drastic overreaches of the Equality Act goes on and on.
In contrast, many Christians point to the “Fairness for All” approach. This was developed through cooperation between LGBTQ activists and conservative religious leaders. Fairness for All legislation seeks to carefully tailor civil rights language to protect sexuality and gender expression without forcing unreasonable demands on religious persons.
As with all such proposed laws, I strongly encourage Christians to politely, peacefully, and persistently seek information and communicate with government leaders. Most laws conflicting with a biblical worldview do not coerce Christians into participation; they allow others to do as they please but don’t mandate the believer participate. Both sides of such issues, then, are free to act as their conscience permits, without legal consequences. The Equality Act is different. It is dangerous because it not only ignores mutual respect for different aspects of civil rights, but it explicitly erases protections meant to allow for freedom of religious expression.
Whether homosexuals and those with an alternative gender identity need more civil rights protections is debatable. The Equality Act, though, is not the answer. It pushes an extreme agenda and tramples on more rights than it seeks to protect.
How should Christians respond to the Equality Act? Pray that it doesn’t pass, at least not without major revisions. If it passes, pray that the Supreme Court would find it unconstitutional. If that doesn’t happen, pray that a future Congress will repeal it. Whatever the case, continue to trust that God is in control.
S. Michael Houdmann with Jeff Laird
How should Christians view the Equality Act?