While it faces an uncertain future in the Senate, the House on Thursday decided to pass a law banning discrimination on the basis of gender, sexuality and gender identity.
The Equality Act will amend existing federal civil rights laws to increase the protection of LGBTQ Americans, as Democratic lawmakers and advocates make significant progress toward legal protection for all Americans. This is one of President Joe Biden’s top legal priorities.
David Cecilin, who has introduced versions of the bill in every session of Congress since 2015, said he was excited to see the bill passed.
In various ways, the incoming vote has shown how Congress has taken LGBTQ rights in other parts of the country, citing changes in public opinion in support of anti-discrimination legislation. The law was long overdue, he told USA Today.
House Majority Leader Stanny Hoyer, D-Md., Told reporters Wednesday that the bill confirms that the LGBTQ community is protected in all its rights, not just its own.
Nine members of the House publicly identify the two in the LGBTQ and the Senate, accounting for about 2% of each chamber. A recent Gallup poll identified LGBTQ showed a record 5.6% in the United States.
The law amended the Civil Rights Act, similar to the Landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibited discrimination on the basis of caste, creed, religion and national origin, and included protection on the basis of gender, sexuality and gender identity. It will also prohibit such discrimination in public places, transport and government-funded programs.
Although many states have enacted anti-discrimination laws, advocates such as Human Rights Advocates have argued that the patchwork of laws across today’s state has discriminated against LGBTQ Americans.
The Supreme Court ruling in the Bostock v. Clay County case last June increased protection for LGBTQ Americans in the workplace, but parties such as the National Women’s Law Center say the law would uphold the court’s decision and create explicit federal protection for LGBTQ Americans outside the workplace.
The House passed a similar version of the bill in May 2012, but it died in the then-Republican-controlled Senate. Eight Republicans voted in favor of it in 2019, although no Republican has co-sponsored this year’s version of the law.
Hower told reporters Wednesday that he hoped every Democrat would vote for the bill again and he hoped a large number of Republicans would vote on it.
House Republican leaders are advising GOP lawmakers to vote against the law, but they are not pressuring members to decide, calling it a vote of conscience, with the support of the House Republican leadership not allowed to speak on the record.
The White House says it supports the bill, and Biden has promised to sign the law into his first 100 days in office.
Some conservatives have expressed concern that the law could violate legal religious freedom or discriminate in athletic competition if transgender women compete against gender women.
The Conservative Heritage Foundation, which opposes the bill, said it could threaten religious freedom, give transgender athletes an unfair advantage and undermine constitutional freedom.
Cecilin said the athletics argument was a non-issue, arguing that transgender athletes are competing in women’s sports or that there is no higher rate of success rate than transgender female athletes. He added that the structure of the bill would reduce the concerns of religious organizations and apply similar religious exemptions to the Civil Rights Act.
Marjorie Taylor Green, R-Ga, who opposed the law, disrupted a systematic debate over the move, angering her Democratic colleagues on Wednesday.
The bill is highly likely to pass the Democratic-controlled House, but it faces an uncertain future in the Senate, with Vice President Kamala Harris in a tiebreaking role, splitting 50-50 between Republicans and Democratic Caucus members. At least ten Republicans will need to vote with all Democrats to move the bill forward, overcoming a key procedural hurdle called Philibuster.
Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore, who introduced the version of the Senate law, said he supported ending the filibuster but said ending the system was probably not a conversation we were going to win this particular year.
Instead, he said, he wanted the Senate to act in a bipartisan manner as it would eliminate discrimination in the workplace under other laws.
Merkel says that when people were discriminated against on the basis of who they liked, the American ideal, the founder of opportunity and fairness and justice for all, was confronted.