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April 2021 Pulse

On 6 December 2019, Chris Stewart, a Republican congressman from Utah, introduced the Fairness for All Act (FFA), a piece of legislation whose stated purpose is to strike a balance between religious liberty and sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) laws.

In a press release, Stewart stressed that ‘All of God’s children, regardless of sexual orientation or religion, deserves dignity, respect, and the right to pursue happiness’. ‘This legislation’, he adds, ‘allows us to settle the legal questions and get back to the business of loving our neighbours’.

While the FFA does have the appearance of ensuring that different groups in society are treated fairly, it in fact is one-sided and assumes as normative the theory of sexuality forwarded by the powerful LGBT lobby. Instead of easing cultural tensions, the FFA will in fact cause them to escalate.

In order to understand this Act, we must briefly discuss SOGI laws and America’s Equality Act that was passed by the United States House of Representatives on May 17, 2019.

According to Peter Sprigg, Senior Fellow for Policy Studies at the Family Research Council in Washington, D.C., SOGI laws are introduced in the United States in an effort to expand the protected categories under existing civil rights laws to bar discrimination on the basis of the following:
a. ‘sexual orientation (which includes voluntary homosexual conduct); and
b. Gender identity referring not to one’s biological sex, but typically to the gender-related identity, appearance, or mannerisms or other gender-related characteristics of an individual, with or without regard to the individual’s designated sex at birth. Gender identity provisions are intended to protect transgender individuals – an umbrella category that includes:

  • transsexuals (people who have had sex-change surgery),
  • transvestites (cross-dressers)
  • drag queens and drag kings (people who cross-dress for entertainment purposes only).’

The Equality Act is a bill passed by the United States House of Representatives on May 17, 2019. It seeks to amend the definition of ‘sex’ from the traditional reference to biological men and women to include sexual orientation or gender identity in order to prevent discrimination in employment, housing, education, etc.

‘Sexual orientation’, according to the Equality Act, means homosexuality, heterosexuality or bisexuality, and ‘gender identity’ refers to gender-related identity and appearance (see (b) above) and not to the individual’s biological sex at birth.

Some Christian churches and organisations in America support the SOGI laws and FFA because they are of the view that they represent a healthy compromise. These groups include the Council of Christian Colleges and Universities, the National Association of Evangelicals, and the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints also supports these laws.

However, a number of conservative Christian groups, such as the Christian Medical Association oppose the laws – with good reasons, in my view. As I mentioned earlier, these laws have an appearance of fairness but are in fact a form of discrimination and coercion – they are therefore in many ways undemocratic.

Penalise Certain Beliefs

SOGI laws enforce a new orthodoxy with regard to sexual orientation and gender identity in a way that condemns those who hold more traditional views as bigots. Robert George explains:

SOGI policies attempt to impose, by force of law, a system of orthodoxy with respect to human sexuality: the belief that marriage is merely a union of consenting adults, regardless of biology, and that one can be male, female, non, or both, again, regardless of biology. SOGI laws impose this orthodoxy by punishing dissent, and by treating as irrational the beliefs that men and women are biologically rooted and made for each other in marriage.

What this simply means is that by elevating an ideology about human sexuality to the status of dogma and by enforcing this new orthodoxy across the board, SOGI laws are not only outlawing not just disagreement but even discussion on these fundamental issues. It treats any other view of sexuality and marriage – including those that world religions like Judaism, Christianity and Islam have held for centuries – not only as unjustified, unlawful but also as a form of dangerous discrimination that should never be tolerated.

Threatens Freedom

SOGI laws therefore violate the freedoms of certain faith communities such as Christians and Muslims by prohibiting them from articulating what their religious traditions teach about human sexuality, marriage and the family. In this way, these laws trample upon a basic human right, namely, the right to religious freedom.

By extension, SOGI laws also threaten the fundamental liberties of citizens and religious organisations to run their schools, charities and businesses according to their values. As Ryan Anderson of The Heritage Foundation has rightly asserted, ‘SOGI laws do not protect equality before the law; instead, they grant special privileges that are enforceable against private actors.’

Subtle Coercion

In making ‘gender identity’ a protected class, SOGI laws are in fact forcing society to accept and embrace transgender ideology. And because these are state laws that must be kept, their compliance leaves citizens with no choice but to implement them in a variety of settings.

For example, schools would have to revise their toilet, locker room, and dorm room policies to accommodate students access based on their subjective gender identity instead of their objective biology.

Employers would have to comply to the laws by ensuring that all employees use ‘preferred pronouns’ when addressing their transgender colleagues. Health care plans must also be revised to cover hormonal treatment and sex-reassignment procedures.

As Ryan Anderson succinctly puts it, ‘In essence, elevating “gender identity” to a protected class across our federal antidiscrimination laws would impose a nationwide transgender bathroom policy, a nationwide pronoun policy, and a nationwide sex-reassignment health care mandate’.

Unjust Discrimination

By treating reasonable acts as discriminatory, SOGI laws would invariably proliferate unjust discrimination against certain groups in society. It can be used to persecute people whose beliefs about sexuality are inimical to the ideology that inspires these laws.

For example, a Christian adoption agency could be accused of discrimination on the basis of ‘sexual orientation’ if it will not help gay or lesbian couples to adopt a child.

Similarly, an insurance agency that would not cover a double mastectomy for women who want to undergo sex-reassignment surgery could be charged for discrimination on the basis of ‘gender identity’.

Conclusion

Much more can be said on this issue, but in concluding this article, I would like to return to the press statement by Chris Stewart.

Christians can fully agree with the congressman’s insistence that all of God’s children deserve dignity, respect and the right to pursue happiness regardless of religion or sexual preferences. And Christians can most certainly concur that we should all ‘get back to the business of loving our neighbours’.

However, placed in the context of the discussion on the FFA and SOGI laws, Chris Stewart’s exhortations must be subjected to interrogation and shown to be not quite as innocuous as they appear on the surface. For they either betray a stark ignorance or a clever sleight-of-hand.

If the congressman is suggesting that Christians can only properly love their neighbour if they accept the SOGI laws, revise their view of sexuality, marriage and family and align themselves to the temper of the present culture, then the congressman’s understanding of Christianity and Christ’s commandment is fatally flawed.

For the Christian, true love for one’s neighbour can never be abstracted from the truth. In this case, to love one’s neighbour is to uphold what the Bible teaches about human sexuality, marriage and the family, not disregard it. Christians believe that the pattern of human sexuality, marriage and family ordained by God is for the flourishing of the human community.

To agree with the congressman’s statement is to concede that whenever Christians articulate their view that God has created human beings as male and female, that we must reject the idea that a man can be a woman or a woman can be a man, and that homosexual behaviour is not moral, they are violating the dignity of their neighbour.

This is something that a Christian cannot and must never do.


Dr Roland Chia is Chew Hock Hin Professor at Trinity Theological College (Singapore) and Theological and Research Advisor of the Ethos Institute for Public Christianity.