The religious right is recoiling in horror over the Equality Act.
Since the latest version of the LGBTQ rights bill was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives in March, far-right groups have been generating hysterical press releases, fundraising appeals, and opinion columns erroneously claiming that the legislation will threaten religious liberty, legalize pedophilia, and increase the risk of sexual assault for women and girls. They've amped up their rhetoric since the bill was approved by the House Judiciary Committee last week, and it will undoubtedly get even worse given Monday's news that it's coming to a vote in the full House next week.
The Equality Act is "the most extreme threat to religious freedom, free speech, privacy and to women's rights that has ever been proposed in Congress," Mat Staver, founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel, wrote in a recent fundraising email. He calls it a "heinous" and "nightmarish" bill that will impose "the radical and unforgiving LGBT agenda on your family, church, school and business."
Actually, what the Equality Act will do, if it becomes law, is add sexual orientation and gender identity to existing civil rights statutes that ban discrimination based on race, sex, religion, and other characteristics in such areas as employment, housing, credit, public accommodations, and jury service.
It would not, as Liberty Counsel claimed in an earlier press release, require churches to go against their beliefs. "Churches that provide weddings or baby showers would be forced to provide the same facilities to LGBT events and 'same-sex weddings,'" the organization said in a press release shortly after the bill's introduction.
But churches and other organizations would be exempt from the public accommodations provision of the act if they limit rentals or services to their members. And the act would not regulate what ministers can say from the pulpit or require them to participate in any ceremony that violates their beliefs.
Christian right activist Linda Harvey goes even further. "We cannot let this bill go forward because it may enable pederasty/pedophilia," she wrote in a column published in April by LifeSite News.
Unlike fellow anti-LGBTQ extremist Bryan Fischer, she doesn't see that coming from pedophilia suddenly being defined as a sexual orientation. (Note: Not one of the 21 states that includes sexual orientation in nondiscrimination laws has declared pedophilia a sexual orientation deserving of legal protection.)
"No, the way this could happen pretty quickly is through the sexual civil rights accorded to children, and all the many new ways adults will find to 'support' them -- what saner heads would call 'grooming,'" she wrote. "All that has to happen for pedophiles to gain access is for minors to acquire newly minted sexual identity 'protections,' and then their carefully manipulated 'choices' will pave the way."
She noted a Cincinnati court case in which a judge cleared the way for a transgender teen to receive hormone therapy, if certain conditions were met, even though the teen's parents opposed the procedure. "So, think about this -- if a child can now legally consent to body mutilation, why not homosexual sex with whomever he pleases, including adults?" Harvey wrote. But absolutely no reasonable person, including supporters of the Equality Act, is pushing for legalization of sexual relationships between children and adults.
And then there's that tired, disproven argument that transgender people, if given access to the appropriate restrooms, will assault women -- or that predatory men will take advantage of nondiscrimination laws by pretending to be trans to gain access to women's restrooms.
"A federal sexual orientation and gender identity law would give male sexual predators who self-identify as females access to private facilities, increasing the likelihood of these tragic incidents," Monica Burke wrote recently on The Daily Signal, a right-wing site. "It could also make victims less likely to report sexual misconduct and police less likely to get involved, for fear of being accused of discrimination." Burke is a research assistant in the Richard and Helen DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society at the Heritage Foundation. By the way, Richard and Helen DeVos are the late father-in-law and mother-in-law of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos; the center was established with a grant from them.
The rabidly anti-LGBTQ American Family Association is sounding this alarm too and using it as part of its continued war with big-box retailer Target, which endorses the right of customers and employees to use the facilities matching their gender identity. The Equality Act would "nationalize Target's dangerous policy that allows men who say they're 'women' to access women's restrooms and changing areas," Ed Vitagliano, AFA executive vice president, asserted on the organization's website.
Not only does this argument downplay the reality of transgender identity, it ignores the facts: Hundreds of antiviolence organizations and numerous studies have stated that trans-inclusive public accommodations policies do not lead to sexual or physical assault and that anti-trans discrimination does nothing to prevent such assaults. But studies indicate that restrictive restroom policies do put trans people at risk.
So a lot of the religious right's arguments against the Equality Act are exaggerations, hysteria, or outright lies. But of course, the far right also opposes what the act will really do -- give LGBTQ people nationwide protections against discrimination. That's endorsed by a majority of Americans, so opposition to that won't make many converts or bring in donations. Hence the horror stories -- with more of them likely to come.