Still, several prominent religious liberty advocates—including the Alliance Defending Freedom and the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) of the Southern Baptist Convention—that opposed the Utah compromise model aren’t on board with Fairness for All either.
Spokeswoman Elizabeth Bristow noted the ERLC’s “longstanding policy that we do not support elevating sexual orientation and gender identity to a protected class.”
Wilson warned against comparing potential Fairness for All legislation to existing policies that have led to high-profile “bakers and bathrooms” cases, most of which were enacted prior to the legalization of same-sex marriage and without input from both sides.
“To look at these older data points and rules only shows us that legislation did not take into account religious freedom,” she said. “They weren’t Fairness for All. They were sexual orientation and gender identity antidiscrimination statutes that did not answer the hardest questions.”
Still, much of the momentum around LGBT advocacy also resists such compromise. In a speech in October, Brookings Institution senior fellow Jonathan Rauch described his pluralistic perspective as an outlier among the LGBT community:
I said reasonable religious accommodations are something we should embrace as a cause, not resent as a concession. At the time, I got hearing. But that door, which was never more than just ajar, has closed. The strong consensus today in the LGBT world is that religious accommodations are a license to discriminate and are by their very nature a concession.
Even without a specific proposal to parse, evangelical leaders are doubling down on the need for deeper discussion, as well as outreach to government partners and LGBT groups. As Wear put it: “We need to have this conversation now, and not when we’re forced to.”
While the Fairness for All legislation gets explored as a national option, state-level antidiscrimination bills are likely to reemerge in California and other states.
Several elected officials visited Biola this semester to meet with administrators and students—an unusual sight on the private university’s Los Angeles campus. In the wake of SB 1146, the school formed a government relations team to improve its outreach. Such relationships allow lawmakers to see that faith-based schools are more than the caricatures in the headlines.
“It’s been really healthy, but it’s been long overdue,” said university spokesman Lee Wilhite.
Now that they’re playing catchup, Biola and fellow CCCU schools like Azusa Pacific University (APU) realize the importance of such proactive policy discussions. They’re partnering together “practically and prayerfully” to address potential legal challenges ahead, said Jennifer Walsh, a dean and political science professor at APU.
In the university context, CCCU schools aim to secure their rights to hire Christian faculty, require chapel attendance, and incorporate their faith into campus policies and curricula. They anticipate how other organizations, from adoption agencies to churches, could risk similar legal threats.
Biola was among the Christian organizations that hosted a CCCU discussion on the possible Fairness for All proposal. “I’m not sure if, in the end, it’s something we’re going to agree to or not,” said Wilhite. “But you have to try to applaud their effort to try to protect both groups.
“We’ll know more on that in the months to come.”