The Equality Act was barely a few hours old before the opponents of LGBT equality went to work recycling the same old, tired arguments that failed against marriage equality — this time using them against nondiscrimination protections.
Here's the problem that the Equality Act sets out to fix: The Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects people on the basis of race, religion, and sex, but it leaves out protections for LGBT people. That's perhaps unsurprising, since when the Civil Rights Act was written 50 years ago, LGBT people were only just starting to come out of the shadows.
The newly proposed Equality Act would patch that "Big Gay Loophole," and protect all Americans on the basis of sexual orientation and gender expression. Advocates and allies in Washington and across the nation have welcomed the bill as long overdue, but the staunchly anti-LGBT camp is responding with predictably less enthusiasm. In fact, those who've made a living (or at least a name for themselves) opposing the basic humanity of LGBT people are trotting out one dubious excuse after another to defend the loophole.
Read on to take a look at those crazy claims — and follow along in the video below as we knock them down, one by one.
Crazy claim #1: Equality is a "special privilege."
Ryan Anderson, a senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative anti-LGBT think tank, is one of the chief proponents of this claim. In a piece where he links back to The Advocate's coverage of the bill, Anderson writes that the Equality Act creates "special privileges based on sexual orientation and gender identity." But that's a complete misunderstanding of the meaning of the words "special" and "privilege."
The Equality Act actually extends the same rights to LGBTs that are already provided to all people on the basis of race, sex, or religion. There's nothing special about those protections.
And the areas that it protects — housing, employment, finance — aren't "privileges." They're basic necessities already protected for those groups enumerated in the Civil Rights Act. Notably, they're protections Anderson enjoys as a self-proclaimed Christian.
Crazy claim #2: Nondiscrimination criminalizes Christianity.
"Were this bill to become law, traditional Christian, Jewish, and Muslim sexual morality would immediately be treated as suspect and contrary to federal law," writes Andrew T. Walker, the director of policy studies for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the virulently anti-LGBT Southern Baptist Convention. He makes this claim and several others in an article featured in Public Discourse, the online magazine of the Witherspoon Institute, which is connected to the notoriously antigay National Organization for Marriage.
But this claim is another misunderstanding. No beliefs are being criminalized. Everyone remains free to practice their religion however they like — up to the point that that practice hurts someone else or infringes on the fundamental rights outlined above. At that point, the Equality Act would step in to stop people from being harmed — like being denied service, housing, or a loan — whether that harm is religiously motivated or not.
Crazy claim #3: This law infringes on churches.
Despite the recent introduction and growing conservative support for federal legislation ominously titled the "First Amendment Defense Act," the claim that churches will be restricted from practicing their faith is an easy one to debunk.
Churches have always been exempt from having to follow nondiscrimination laws that violate their beliefs. Despite the ongoing enforcement of the Civil Rights Act (not to mention more than 200 LGBT-inclusive state and local nondiscrimination ordinances around the country), churches still are not required to treat women equally. Faith-based institutions are allowed to discriminate on the basis of race, and can refuse to marry interfaith couples. Adding sexual orientation and gender identity to the Civil Rights Act won't change anything for churches. Anyone who claims otherwise might need a refresher course on the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Crazy claim #4: Requiring companies to treat everyone equally is bad for business.
Walker, the SBC leader writing in Public Discourse, speculates that "the market" will ultimately shutter businesses that don't support LGBT equality. But his perception of the Equality Act's reach goes far beyond that:
"There is no compelling reason to deny a gay individual access to his or her favorite restaurant. It is nonsensical to prevent a gay individual from purchasing batteries or being treated at a hospital. But that isn’t what the Equality Act attempts to fix, because those problems are extreme, and so rare as to be virtually nonexistent. The Equality Act instead paves over the consciences of those who cannot in good faith condone conduct they believe to be immoral by providing services for a same-sex wedding ceremony."
If that were true, then why do so many companies support the Equality Act? At its introduction, it had support from Apple, Dow Chemical, and Levi Strauss. And whenever a state passes (or even considers passing) a "license to discriminate" bill, the business community comes out in force against it. (Just ask Indiana Gov. Mike Pence.)
The truth is that ensuring the fair treatment of all consumers is good for business — as the majority of the top 20 Fortune 500 companies that offer such protections have already demonstrated.
Crazy claim #5: It'll confuse children.
"While issues of sex and gender identity are psychologically, morally and politically controversial, all should agree that children should be protected from having to sort through such questions before they reach an appropriate age," writes Anderson, the Heritage Foundation fellow. "[LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination] laws would prevent schools and employers from protecting children from these adult debates about sex and gender identity by forcing employers to accommodate the desires of transgender employees in ways that put them in the spotlight."
This is completely misleading. Sure, if a child's parents tell them that LGBT people should be treated as though they're inferior, then little Johnny sees that his transgender teacher is treated with the same respect as her colleagues, it might cause him to question what his parents told him. But for the kids of LGBT parents, or who are exploring their own identities, seeing that LGBT people can actually be treated with respect can have an incredibly positive influence that extends far beyond the classroom.
Taking that fact into account, complaints about the supposed confusion children might experience ends up sounding like another way of saying, "I'm annoyed with reality for intruding on the prejudices that I'm trying to instill in my children."
To sum up:
The Equality Act is a golden opportunity: It improves life for everyone, without hurting anyone. Unfortunately, it currently faces a monumental uphill battle for passage. As even the staunchest advocates acknowledge, Democrats will need a supermajority in Congress to overcome Republican stonewalling.
That means the best chance that the Equality Act has of passing — and the only chance that the Civil Rights Act has of fulfilling its promise — is a landslide victory for pro-equality politicians in the next election. Without it, LGBT Americans will continue to face the loss of their jobs, their homes, their education, and their finances every single day, simply for being who they are.