Christian and Conservative Leaders Say LGBT Equality Act Would Endanger Freedom of Conscience Rights

New legislation that bans discrimination against gay and transgender people would cripple Americans’ freedom of conscience rights, Christian and conservative leaders say.

On Wednesday (March 13), Democrats in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives introduced the Equality Act, a proposal that would add “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to the classifications protected in federal civil rights law. “Sexual orientation” includes homosexuality and bisexuality, while “gender identity” refers to the way a person perceives himself regardless of his biology at birth.

Advocates for the bill say it is needed to protect the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people in such categories as employment, housing and public accommodations — which includes establishments that provide goods, services or programs. Opponents say they oppose unjust discrimination but contend the measure would denigrate Christian morality and coerce behavior in violation of religious beliefs.

Both versions of the Equality Act go so far as to eliminate the use of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) as a possible protection in cases covered by the measure. Enacted in 1993, RFRA requires the government to have a compelling interest and use the narrowest possible means in burdening a person’s religious exercise.

The Equality Act — first introduced in 2015 — appears certain to gain approval in the Democratic-controlled House. The bill, sponsored by Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., has 239 cosponsors in a chamber where only 218 votes are needed for passage. Only one of the cosponsors is a Republican.

The Senate — where Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., is the chief sponsor — has 46 cosponsors. Sen. Susan Collins of Maine is the lone GOP cosponsor.

If the Equality Act were to become law, “its sweeping effects on religious liberty, free speech and freedom of conscience would be both historic and also chilling,” said Andrew Walker, senior fellow in Christian ethics at the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. “In short, the Equality Act equates Christian ethics with hatred and bigotry.

“We believe all persons, including those who identify as LGBT, are made in God’s image and deserve respect, kindness and neighborliness,” Walker wrote in a March 11 post for The Gospel Coalition. “But this truth does not necessitate Christian capitulation to the sexual revolution.”

If enacted, the bill would cast “into the dustbin of history” the ideas “that marriage is a complementary union of a man and a woman, and that male and female are immutable, biological realities,” he wrote.

Kristen Waggoner — senior vice president of the U.S. legal division of Alliance Defending Freedom — said Americans “simply deserve better than the profound inequality proposed by this intolerant, deceptively titled legislation.”

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Source: Baptist Press