Religious leaders caution “imposition of novel and divisive viewpoints regarding ‘gender.'”
The Equality Act, which would amend the 1964 Civil Rights Act to explicitly prevent discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, is set to be voted on in the House of Representatives this week. On Wednesday, the Catholic bishops of the United States issued a stern warning of the dangers inherent in the bill.
“The Equality Act purports to protect people experiencing same-sex attraction or gender discordance from discrimination,” said a February 23 letter to members of Congress from the heads of several bishops’ committees. “But instead, the bill represents the imposition by Congress of novel and divisive viewpoints regarding ‘gender’ on individuals and organizations. This includes dismissing sexual difference and falsely presenting ‘gender’ as only a social construct.”
In addition, the bishops warned, the Equality Act “can also be construed to include an abortion mandate.”
President Joseph R. Biden Jr. has voiced his support for the legislation, which passed in the House in 2019 but failed to be introduced in the then-Republican controlled Senate. On February 19, Biden tweeted, “The Equality Act provides long overdue federal civil rights protections for LGBTQ+ Americans, preventing discrimination in our housing, education, public services, and lending systems. I urge Congress to swiftly pass this historic legislation.”
But the bishops’ letter argued that the bill would create a new victim of discrimination.
“Rather than affirm human dignity in ways that meaningfully exceed existing practical protections, the Equality Act would discriminate against people of faith,” said the letter, signed by Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, chairman of the committee for religious liberty; Archbishops Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City, chairman of the committee on domestic justice and human development, and Joseph Naumann of Kansas City in Kansas, chairman of the committee on pro-life activities; Bishops Michael Barber of Oakland, chairman of the committee on Catholic education, and David Konderla of Tulsa, chairman of the subcommittee for the promotion and defense and marriage. “It would also inflict numerous legal and social harms on Americans of any faith or none.”
According to the bishops, the legislation would:
- punish faith-based charities such as shelters and foster care agencies, and in turn their thousands of beneficiaries, simply because of their beliefs on marriage and sexuality (§§ 3, 6);
- force both people and organizations in many everyday life and work settings to speak or act in support of “gender transitions,” including health care workers and licensed counselors, even when it’s against their professional judgment (§§ 3, 6, 7);
- risk mandating taxpayers to pay for abortions, and health care workers with conscience objections to perform them, ultimately ending more human lives (§§ 3, 6, 9);
- force girls and women to compete against boys and men for limited opportunities in school sports, and to share locker rooms and shower spaces with biological males who claim to identify as women (§§ 6, 9);
- expand the government’s definition of public places into numerous settings, even forcing religiously operated spaces, such as some church halls and equivalent facilities owned by synagogues or mosques, to either host functions that violate their beliefs or close their doors to their broader communities(§ 3);
- exclude people from the careers and livelihoods that they love, just for maintaining the truth of their beliefs on marriage and sexuality (§ 3); and
- discriminate against individuals and religious organizations based on their different beliefs by partially repealing the bipartisan Religious Freedom Restoration Act, an unprecedented departure from that law and one of America’s founding principles (§ 9).
The bishops argued that the Catholic Church, “as the largest non-governmental provider of human services in the United States, helps millions of people in need through its parishes, schools, hospitals, shelters, legal clinics, food banks, and other charities. The same core beliefs about the human person — made with inherent dignity and in the image of God — motivate both our positions on life, marriage, and sexuality, and also our call to serve the most vulnerable and the common good.”