On Friday, the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 5, misleadingly titled “The Equality Act.” While it is unlikely to become law under President Donald Trump and the Republican Senate, this repressive bill would enshrine an ideology of gender that destroys women’s rights, force supporters of traditional sexuality to violate their consciences, and force health care providers to perform abortions. The act passed the House, 236-173. Eight Republicans joined with Democrats in supporting this heinous bill, while zero Democrats joined Republicans in opposing it.
“Laws should respect the constitutionally guaranteed freedoms of every citizen, but the so-called ‘Equality Act’ that the House has passed fails to meet this essential standard,” Kristen Waggoner, senior vice president at Alliance Defending Freedom and the woman who successfully argued the religious freedom case Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission (2018), said in a statement on the bill’s passage.
She argued that the bill “undermines women’s equality by denying female athletes fair competition in sports, depriving women of business opportunities designed for them, and forcing them to share private, intimate spaces with men who identify as female. Like similar state and local laws, it 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.”
The Masterpiece case proves instructive for this strategy. Christian baker Jack Phillips gladly serves all customers who come into his shop, but he refuses to create custom cakes that express a message that violates his conscience. He refuses to make Halloween cakes, and he refused to make a cake celebrating a same-sex wedding. Colorado’s government claimed this constituted discrimination, even though Phillips would not make such a cake, even if a straight person ordered it.
“Many activists want to con Americans into believing that disagreement on important matters such as marriage and human sexuality is a form of discrimination that requires the government to enforce one view over another, but that is obviously wrong,” Waggoner said. “This bill undermines human dignity by threatening the fundamental freedoms of speech, religion, and conscience that the First Amendment guarantees for every citizen. Americans deserve better than the profound inequality that this intolerant, deceptively titled legislation offers.”
A broad coalition of conservative, feminist, and pro-life groups have allied against this legislation for these and other concerns.
Radical feminist Democrats have opposed the bill because it erases women as a coherent legal category. “It would erase women and girls as a discrete legal category as a discrete civil rights protection,” Kara Dansky, a lawyer and spokeswoman for the Women’s Liberation Front (WoLF), told PJ Media this week. “Women have for thousands of years been fighting to protect ourselves because for too long we have been held down on the basis of our biological sex. Feminists support the complete abolition of gender and the so-called Equality Act would enshrine gender into federal civil rights law.”
Biological sex is a fact that determines bodily development, while feminists like Dansky argue that gender is a social construct that does more harm than good. Yet the Equality Act would enshrine gender over and above biological sex, allowing males who identify as women to enter women’s restrooms and changing rooms, compete in women’s sports, and take special grants intended for women. For these reasons, lesbian feminist Julia Beck has slammed the bill as a “human rights violation.”
Yet conservatives also noted that the Equality Act would erase key protections for families and faith.
“This is an all-out assault on parental rights, on the family, and on the millions of people of faith in this country,” Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council (FRC), said in a statement. “The legislation goes far beyond just quarantining faith behind the four walls of a house of worship. This act quarantines faith within your mind and says that’s where it must stay.”
“It creates a world that punishes those who exercise their freedom to believe and live according to those beliefs. No institution or person of faith, be it a school, church, synagogue, mosque, business, or non-profit will escape its Orwellian reach,” he warned. “The Religious Freedom Restoration Act will be committed to the ‘memory hole.’ We will then experience a catastrophic loss of religious freedom in America, and, as a result, every American, those who believe and do not believe, will suffer the consequences.”
Yet the act may also remove religious freedom protections for health care providers. Without explicit protections written in the bill, The Equality Act would force health care providers to perform abortions if a woman asks for them. The bill prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, defined as including “pregnancy, childbirth, or a related medical condition,” including abortion.
“The egregiously misnamed ‘Equality Act’ is the latest back-door effort by extremists to expand abortion on demand through birth, funded with taxpayer dollars,” former Congresswoman Marilyn Musgrave, vice president of governmental affairs at the pro-life group Susan B. Anthony List, said in a statement. “The bill’s definition of sex discrimination has already been interpreted by courts to put abortion in the same category as pregnancy and childbirth. As written, it could roll back decades of pro-life policy on the state and federal level, as well as forcing health care workers and entities to participate in abortion.”
“Speaker Pelosi and House Democrats could have addressed those concerns by including Congresswoman Debbie Lesko’s amendment to make this bill abortion-neutral, but they refused, showing their hand,” Musgrave added. “We urge the House to reject this latest attempt by Democrats to wipe out pro-life laws and force taxpayers to pay for abortion on demand.”
This bill is unlikely to pass the U.S. Senate or receive President Donald Trump’s signature, but Democrats will almost certainly run on this issue in 2020. Americans need to know why this is a bad bill, and they should unite to defend the rights of women, religious freedom, and the right to life.
Follow Tyler O’Neil, the author of this article, on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.