Five of the six Kentucky representatives in the U.S. House of Representatives voted no on Friday to the Equality Act, which eliminates the use of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act as possible protection in cases covered by the measure.
The far-reaching gay and transgender rights bill could undermine freedom of religion, conscience and speech, opponents say.
The Democratic-controlled House voted 236-173 for the Equality Act, HR 5. The bill bars discrimination against people who identify as gay or transgender, marking the first time it has gained approval in a congressional chamber.
The five Republican House representatives from Kentucky – Thomas Massie, Brett Guthrie, Andy Barr, James Comer and Hal Rogers – all voted against the bill. The lone Democratic representative, John Yarmuth, voted in favor.
The bill 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.
It’s not likely to gain passage in the Republican-majority Senate and the Trump administration has criticized the legislation without promising a veto.
A Trump administration official told the Washington Blade, a newspaper focused on LGBT issues, that “the bill in its current form is filled with poison pills that threaten to undermine parental and conscience rights.”
Barr said the legislation is inaccurately described as a simple measure to prohibit discrimination against gay, lesbian and transgendered Americans.
“In fact, HR 5 would prohibit under federal law, in all circumstances, any acknowledgement that biological gender is a reality,” he said. “It would require doctors to provide life-altering and often irreversible hormones and surgeries to adolescents without parental involvement. It would insert the state in matters that should be exclusively the province of the family.”
He said it would also require insurers to provide coverage for sex change operations and any operations that attempt to reverse the effects of prior operations.
“Perhaps most importantly, this bill would deny religious people and people of faith the protection of the bipartisan Religious Freedom Restoration Act,” Barr said. “For the first time ever, HR 5, would require churches, temples, mosques, synagogues and other religious organizations to make their gathering places open to celebrations of gender alteration, even if those events contradict a religious organization’s sincerely held religious beliefs.”
The Equality Act, put simply, takes away constitutionally protected religious freedoms.
The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission’s Russell Moore and 11 other organizational leaders sent a letter to House members on May 7 listing concerns about the bill:
-- Houses of worship and other religious institutions could be considered "public accommodations" and become subject to government rules in violation of their beliefs.
-- Faith-based adoption and foster care agencies that refuse to place children with same-sex couples would be crippled.
-- Religious colleges and universities could have their ability to hire according to their beliefs and their students' ability to receive federal aid threatened.
-- Religious adherents would be coerced to participate in weddings and funerals that compromise their convictions.
It could also have a profound impact on female sports. Duke Professor Doriane Lambelet Coleman said it “will be the end of girl’s and women’s only sports.”
The Equality Act would redefine sex in the 1964 Civil Rights Act, basing it not on biology but on self-perceived gender identity.
Female athletes nationwide are already losing to males who argue that sex-segregated sports is unfair discrimination. But athletes who identify as the opposite sex aren’t excluded from competing against their physical equals. They are seeking to compete in categories created to provide an equal playing field for all athletes.
Organizers of the Boston Marathon didn’t believe women were capable of running 26 miles until a woman proved them wrong by fighting off race security to make it across the finish line in 1967. Last year, more than 11,000 women finished the race.
Barr agreed that the legislation threatens sports for girls and women.
“As the father of two girls, I am particularly concerned that this bill would eliminate girls’ and women’s sports by requiring biological boys and men to compete in girls’ and women’s sports against biological females,” Barr said. “Additionally, HR 5 would require that boys and men be allowed into private female spaces, including dormitories, locker rooms and other places formerly reserved for girls and women.”
Baptist Press contributed to this report.