Wealthy corporations back Equality Act stripped of religious freedom protections

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Federal LGBT legislation that excludes important religious freedom protections has the backing of over 400 American corporations with trillions of dollars in annual revenue. 

More than 400 companies, including dozens of Fortune 500 companies, have joined a business coalition in support of the Equality Act, the LGBT advocacy group Human Rights Campaign said on April 27. 

The Equality Act would add sexual orientation and gender identity as protected categories under federal civil rights law, where race is currently protected. 

The legislation also prevents religious freedom claims from being made by individuals and groups under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). The landmark 1993 law has been invoked by many as a defense against various government mandates, but the Equality Act would override those religious freedom protections.  

The U.S. bishops’ conference has thus warned that the Equality Act could “punish” religious groups which do not recognize same-sex “marriage” and transgender ideologies.

“Instead of respecting differences in beliefs about marriage and sexuality, the Equality Act would discriminate against people of faith,” the conference has said in an action alert.

The Equality Act passed the U.S. House in March, and is currently in the U.S. Senate. The 416 businesses supporting the legislation have their corporate headquarters in 33 U.S. states, reporting a combined $6.8 trillion in annual revenue and more than 14.6 million total employees.

In a Feb. 23 letter to Congress, five USCCB committee chairs said that passage of the bill would force “novel and divisive viewpoints regarding ‘gender’ on individuals and organizations.”

They said that the Equality Act would impose coercive mandates on religious institutions and people of faith. For instances, the bill could force church halls to host events that violate their beliefs, or threaten religious adoption agencies that cannot in good faith place children with same-sex couples, the USCCB said. Women would have to share shelters and locker rooms with biological males identifying as transgender females, under the legislation. 

The Human Rights Campaign’s announcement in favor of the bill cited the support of corporate leaders from American Airlines, Levi Strauss & Co., and the Dow Chemical Company.

Carla Grant Pickens, global chief diversity and inclusion officer for the technology company IBM, praised the bill as a positive step for innovation. She said that “a workforce that reflects the diversity of today's society drives new ideas and innovation.”

“At IBM, we seek to hire the most talented individuals regardless of their gender identity, sexual orientation, religion, or other personal characteristics. We also believe that equal protections should extend beyond an employer's four walls, which is why IBM stands with HRC in endorsing the Equality Act,” Grant Pickens said.

“It's time that civil rights protections be extended to LGBT+ individuals nationwide on a clear, consistent, and comprehensive basis,” she said. 

Arguing for the legislation, the Human Rights Campaign said that even if a self-identified LGBTQ person works for an employer with strong anti-discrimination policy, “that employee and their family members can still experience discrimination in other areas of life and have no legal recourse.” The group claimed that a lack of explicit non-discrimination protections mean that employees can be denied healthcare, loans, housing and “basic goods and services.”

The LGBT advocacy group said that corporate endorsements of the legislation have more than doubled since 2019, when the U.S. House passed a version of the bill. It cited a Hart Research Associates poll, which said that 70% of Americans and 50% of Republicans now back the legislation.

The Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) was critical of anti-discrimination legislation on the basis of sexual orientation, in a 1992 document. While rejecting violence and malice against people, the CDF said that sexual orientation “does not constitute a quality comparable to race, ethnic background, etc. in respect to non-discrimination.”

“Unlike these, homosexual orientation is an objective disorder, and evokes moral concern,” said the Vatican document.

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“There are areas in which it is not unjust discrimination to take sexual orientation into account, for example, in the placement of children for adoption or foster care, in employment of teachers or athletic coaches, and in military recruitment,” said the CDF.

Legislation similar to the proposed Equality Act - barring discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity - has been enacted in several states and localities. 

Religious adoption agencies in several states have had to close, for declining to place children with same-sex couples as mandated by state or local laws. Business owners have faced lawsuits for declining to bake same-sex wedding cakes or photograph same-sex wedding ceremonies as required by nondiscrimination ordinances. In Connecticut, a state policy allowed for biological males identifying as transgender females to compete in girls’ sports. 

The Human Rights Campaign reported $44.6 million in annual revenue in 2019, according to tax forms. It lists many national corporate partners on its website in a four-tiered system of “platinum,” “gold,” “silver,” and “bronze.”

Current “Platinum Level” sponsors include American Airlines, Apple, the Coca-Cola Company, Smirnoff, Google, Intel, Lyft, Microsoft, Nationwide, Northrop-Grumman, Pfizer, Target and UPS.

The organization’s gold-level partners include CapitalOne, Carnival, Lexus, Nike, and Nordstrom.

As CNA previously reported, several NGOs are making a major push to strip religious freedom protections where they conflict with LGBT causes, or with access to abortion and contraception. Major donors like the Ford Foundation, the Arcus Foundation, and the Proteus Fund have dedicated millions of dollars in earmarked grants toward campaigns to redefine or marginalize religious freedom protections.

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Such donors poured over $100 million into the decades-long effort to recognize same-sex unions as marriage. The Human Rights Campaign said that in 2015, 379 major corporations signed onto an amicus brief asking the U.S. Supreme Court to mandate legal recognition of same-sex “marriage.”

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