On February 25, 2021, the House of Representatives passed H. R. 5, also known as the Equality Act. The legislation now proceeds to the Senate floor for deliberation, where it needs 60 votes for passage. This Act seeks to expand the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that afforded equality for people of all races and skin colors to enjoy the same public accommodation and material goods.
To understand what is transpiring, we must engage in a brief history lesson on Civil Rights Acts. The first Civil Rights Act occurred soon after the Civil War. The Civil Rights Act of 1866, introduced by Lyman Trumbull (R-Ill.) and William Lawrence (R-Ohio), ensured that all Americans, regardless of previous condition of servitude, could enjoy the same rights to sell, buy and hold land, sue, and inherit land. This Act propelled momentum toward the 14th Amendment, which occurred just four years later and afforded all races the right to vote.
In 1890, Southern Democrats pushed forward a segregation agenda known as the Jim Crow laws that sent black children to different schools and sports programs and restricted their access to public accommodations.
After nearly 75 years of these horrific laws, Senator Everett Dirksen (R-Ill.) introduced a bipartisan bill which eventually became known as the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This significant piece of legislation passed with majority support from both parties. However, support from the Republican Party (largely out of power at the time) was overwhelming, with over 80 percent in both the House and Senate. Most of the original resistance came from the Democrat Party. However, President Lyndon B. Johnson was able to bring them around. Eventually, Democrats voted 66 percent to 34 percent for the passage of this act.
The 1964 Civil Rights Act and a subsequent Act of 1968 were landmark legislative achievements. They ensured that people could not be discriminated against on the basis of their skin color, ethnicity or nationality. The Equality Act seeks to expand the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to extend privileges meant for race to gender identity and sexual orientation.
Ironically, today we find that the same Republican Party that sought the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act largely opposes this Equality Act. Why? Doesn’t the word “Equality” in the title mean that this Act must be fair to all?
As with most legislation, the content cannot be accurately described merely by the name of the Act. The devil is always in the details. The vagueness and broadness of such legislation can lead to misunderstandings and potentially unintended consequences.
The purpose of this writing is to explore different viewpoints that show how the Equality Act, as written, could impact Civil Rights as a whole.
In the early 1970s, Congress passed Title IX that added sex to the 1964 Civil Rights Act’s protected categories. Among the many rights secured, this law ensures that women are granted equal access to federally funded programs. Title IX has had a significant impact on the progression of women’s sports by ensuring equality in the number of scholarships for female athletes.
The Equality Act would allow participation of biological men who identify as women in women’s sports. This would effectively lower the number of available scholarships for biological women.
Proponents of the Equality Act believe that the rights of biological men who prefer to identify as women should override the right of equal access to scholarships for biological women.
Opponents believe that ground gained for access to athletic scholarships should be reserved for biological women and not usurped by biological men choosing female gender identification.
The Act broadly states, “An individual shall not be denied access to a shared facility, including a restroom, a locker room and a dressing room, that is in accordance with the individual’s gender identity.”
Passage of this act would allow biological men to enter into battered women’s shelters and disrobe in women’s locker rooms. TSA agents who are biological men could do strip searches on women.
Advocates of this Act believe that a person’s declaration of gender identity outweighs the actual biological science behind the person’s sex.
While everyone is sensitive to the struggles transgender people face, opponents are concerned about the privacy rights of individuals in bathrooms, holding facilities, and airports while being patted down, stripsearched, etc.
Gender Reassignment Surgery:
The passage of this Act would force the military and employers to pay for gender reassignment surgery.
Proponents of this Act indicate that if someone declares that they are one sex but born into another, they should have the option to change their sex biologically through a medical health plan. Many proponents believe that children should be able to make these decisions.
Opponents are concerned that this would be an unnecessary expense added to employers and the military that will take away from the funds necessary to secure our country properly.
The passage of this Act would force religious schools, adoption agencies, and charities to face federal sanctions for upholding their traditional beliefs regarding gender.
Proponents of the Equality Act believe that many religious institutions should be forced to change for the sake of modernization.
Many opponents believe the First Amendment guarantees freedom of religion, and thus this Act should not be used to coerce churches into compliance.
The majority of people are not in favor of housing and employment discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. There are existing laws and Supreme Court decisions that protect individuals from such discrimination.
While the resolution is before the Senate for deliberation, now is the time for us to think about what H. R. 5, called the Equality Act, means for our society, schools, religion, employment, and families.