Why the “Equality Act” is a disaster for religious liberty, and why we may be facing the disaster very soon.

The Associated Press reports on what the Democrats intend to do if they take back the House of Representatives this November. In short, they plan to introduce legislation that would be the biggest assault on religious liberty in our nation’s history. From the report:

Just days ahead of a midterm election they hope will deliver them a majority, House Democrats are promising to prioritize anti-discrimination legislation that would for the first time establish widespread equal rights protections for LGBTQ individuals.

Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi recently said she would introduce the Equality Act as one of her first orders of business if Democrats retake the House in November. Pelosi made the announcement at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, telling the crowd the issue of equal rights for the LGBTQ community is “personal.”

The 1964 Civil Rights Act already bars discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin. The Equality Act, if passed, would add sexual orientation and gender identity to the law and expand those protections beyond the workplace. It would outlaw gender discrimination in places like restaurants and retail shops, in seeking housing, using health care and social services, applying for a loan or participating in the jury selection process.

Under current federal law, sexual orientation and gender identity are not protected classes, but they would be if this bill were to become law.

What does this have to do with religious liberty? It is not as if there is widespread discrimination against LGBT people in public accommodations. No restaurant or business is hanging a sign that says “straights and cisgender only.” So that is not the intent of the “Equality Act.” Rather, the intent of the bill is to target the last hold-outs to the LGBT revolution—religious people. How do we know this? Because the bill takes explicit aim at religious people. From the AP report:

A provision in the bill forbids any employer or retailer from using the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, passed in 1993, to justify withholding services based on gender or sexual orientation. The law, which received bipartisan support, barred the government from interfering with the rights of religious practitioners. But more recently the law has been used to protect the rights of business owners to refuse service based on religious beliefs. In one 2014 case, the Supreme Court found that chain craft store Hobby Lobby, founded by religious evangelicals, didn’t have to provide its employees with contraception coverage for religious reasons.

The Religious Freedom Restoration Act—which used to enjoy bipartisan support—has now become the boogey man of the left. The left wants to destroy this federal law and force religious people to violate their sincerely held religious beliefs about marriage and sexuality.

For example, if this bill were to become law, Christian business owners in the wedding industry would be forced to participate in gay weddings. Christian colleges would be forced to house students according to their gender identity. The list of religious liberty violations would be virtually endless.

The truth of the matter is that Democrats have very little chance of getting such a bill passed in the Senate, much less of getting the current president to sign it if they did. Nevertheless, this bill signals that one side of the culture war wishes the total subjugation of the other. They will run roughshod over the religious consciences of their fellow citizens. And because public opinion have shifted dramatically in favor of LGBT rights over the years, eventually this bill (or one like it) will become law.

Some years ago, Ross Douthat observed:

Unless something dramatic changes in the drift of public opinion, the future of religious liberty on these issues is going to depend in part on the magnanimity of gay marriage supporters

Yet there is very little evidence of “magnanimity” on the part of those who support the “Equality Act.” On the contrary, there is evidence that many of them would like to see traditional marriage supporters get their comeuppance. A scorched-earth policy may very well be in the offing with traditional marriage supporters getting the biggest burn. Will there be room for compromise?

About six years ago, Robert George wrote something that has proven to be prophetic.

There is, in my opinion, no chance—no chance—of persuading champions of sexual liberation (and it should be clear by now that this is the cause they serve), that they should respect, or permit the law to respect, the conscience rights of those with whom they disagree. Look at it from their point of view: Why should we permit “full equality” to be trumped by bigotry? Why should we respect religions and religious institutions that are “incubators of homophobia”? Bigotry, religiously based or not, must be smashed and eradicated. The law should certainly not give it recognition or lend it any standing or dignity.

Can we really expect the sexual revolutionaries to be magnanimous toward those they regard as bigoted? The reintroduction of the “Equality Act” tells us that the answer is no. Why would the sexual revolutionaries make accommodations for the consciences of those they regard as bigots?

What does all of this mean? It means that Christians and other conjugal marriage supporters need to direct great energy to obtaining every religious liberty accommodation possible while there is still time. It may be that the moment is passing us by, and that makes the matter all the more urgent.

It also means for Christians that we need to be ready for a new reality. We need to be ready to love our neighbors and our enemies and to bear witness in a culture that is increasingly hostile toward us. Private citizens may someday face fines and other penalties for their biblical beliefs about homosexuality and transgenderism. Our churches may eventually lose tax exempt status. Any number of negative outcomes are possible in the approaching conflagration.

Ours will likely be a costly love and a costly witness. But this is precisely the kind of discipleship that Jesus has called all of us to, and it will be worth it in the end (Matt. 16:25).

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