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Over bishops’ objections, U.S. House passes controversial Equality Act

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WASHINGTON — The House of Representatives passed the Equality Act in a 224-206 vote Feb. 25.

Prior to the vote, the chairmen of five U.S. bishops' committees said in a Feb. 23 letter to Congress that the legislation’s mandates will "discriminate against people of faith" by adversely affecting charities and their beneficiaries, conscience rights, women's sports, "and sex-specific facilities."

The bill, known as H.R. 5, amends the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, housing, public accommodations, public education, federal funding, the credit system and jury duty.

Speaking ahead of the vote on his Feb. 24 “Walk Humbly Podcast,” Bishop Michael F. Burbidge echoed many of the concerns raised by the aforementioned U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) letter and accompanying legislative “Action Alert” in opposition to the measure.

“We believe everyone deserves to be treated with respect and dignity,” Bishop Burbidge said. “We recognize every single person as a child of God.”

Yet the House-passed legislation “does the opposite in many ways,” he noted. “Clearly, it needs to be opposed.”

Citing the USCCB analysis, Bishop Burbidge described a range of problematic provisions in the bill, saying it would discriminate against and punish faith-based organizations such as charities and schools that serve everyone in their communities; risk mandating taxpayers to fund abortions; force people in everyday life and especially health care workers to support gender transition and require parish halls to host functions that conflict with Catholic beliefs.

H.R. 5 "purports to protect people experiencing same-sex attraction or gender discordance from discrimination. But instead, the bill represents the imposition by Congress of novel and divisive viewpoints regarding 'gender' on individuals and organizations," the USCCB chairmen said in their letter.

"This includes dismissing sexual difference and falsely presenting 'gender' as only a social construct," they said. "As Pope Francis has reflected, however, 'biological sex and the sociocultural role of sex — gender — can be distinguished but not separated.'"

Signing the letter were: Bishop Michael C. Barber of Oakland, Calif., chairman of the USCCB Committee on Catholic Education; Archbishop Paul S. Coakley of Oklahoma City, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development; Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York, chairman of the USCCB Committee for Religious Liberty; Bishop David A. Konderla of Tulsa, Okla., chairman of the USCCB Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage; and Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City, Kan., chairman of the USCCB Committee on Pro-Life Activities.

"It is one thing to be understanding of human weakness and the complexities of life, and another to accept ideologies that attempt to sunder what are inseparable aspects of reality," the bishops said, further quoting Pope Francis.

"Tragically, this act can also be construed to include an abortion mandate, a violation of precious rights to life and conscience," the committee chairmen added.

"Rather than affirm human dignity in ways that meaningfully exceed existing practical protections, the Equality Act would discriminate against people of faith," they said. "It would also inflict numerous legal and social harms on Americans of any faith or none.”

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2021