Please Don’t Let The Equality Act Be Buried in the Legislative Graveyard

 A bipartisan majority in the U.S. House of Representatives just voted, 224-206, to pass the Equality Act.  Known as H.R.5 and sponsored by Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI.) who has introduced versions of this bill since 2015 in each Congress sessions, the Equality Act is sweeping legislation that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, sexual orientation and gender orientation.

Why We Need The Equality Act:  How It Differs from The Civil Rights Act

H.R. 5 legislation would amend the federal Civil Rights Act of ’64 that had banned discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion and national origin, so it can include protections on the basis of sex, sexual orientation and gender identity.  The Equality Act would prohibit discrimination, harassment and victimization in public places, on transportation and in government-funded programs, housing, public accommodations, including online retailers, public education, federal funding, credit, and the jury system. It also spells out laws based on age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, adoption, race, religion, sex, and sexual orientation.

How It Differs From ENDA

The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) is legislation that was proposed in the U.S. Congress that would prohibit discrimination in hiring and employment on the basis of sexual orientation or, depending on the bill’s version, gender identity by employers with at least 15 employees.

Since 1994, ENDA has been introduced in every Congress except the 109th. (2007-2009).  In 2007, gender identity protections were added to the legislation for the first time. It died in the Senate after transgender inclusions were added.  In 2013, Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) introduced ENDA in the Senate.  By a vote of 64-32, Merkley’s bill passed the Senate. President Barack Obama supported the bill’s passage, but the House Rules Committee voted against it.

From 2015 on, LGBT rights advocates moved to support the Equality Act with more comprehensive protections than ENDA.  On June 15, 2020, the Supreme Court ruled in Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects employees from discrimination based on their sexual orientation and gender identity.  Like ENDA, it only safeguarded employment.

LGBT rights advocates such as The Human Rights Campaign called on Congress to pass the Equality Act so that the LGBT population can have equal rights in all areas.  As of 2020, 29 U.S. states do not have the full protections that the Equality Act would provide for the LGBT community.

House Majority Leader, Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) told reporters yesterday that the bill makes sure that LGBTQ community is protected in all of its rights.  Senator Schumer(D-NY) leader in the Senate, called the Equality Act “long overdue,” and that “the Senate has some catching up to do.” The late Senator John Lewis (D-GA), civil rights advocate, remarked that the Equality Act is “all about freedom and sense of urgency,” particularly with the disproportionate transgender individuals and people of color being vulnerable to attacks.

Those Opposed

The climate for the Equality Bill is ripe.  A Gallup poll shows that 82% of Americans support it and 68% of Republicans are in favor.  According to Gallup, 5.6% of adults identify as LGBTQ, an increase due to the younger population’s non-binary orientation.

The Senate is split between Republicans and Democratic Caucus members.  Vice-President Kamala Harris would be able to cast her vote in case of a tie.  Three Republicans are expected not to vote for the Equality Act:  Lisa Ann Murkowski of Alaska, Jeff Portman of Ohio, and Mitt Romney of Utah.  However, there is a need  for at least 10 Republicans to vote with all the Democrats to advance the Senate legislation, introduced by Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR), past a key procedural obstacle, the filibuster. Fifty-one percent of 100, a simple majority passes the bill.

Conservatives oppose the legislation because it could infringe upon religious liberty or lead to inequality in sports if transgendered athletes compete with girls, giving the former an unfair advantage.

The conservative Heritage Foundation is opposed to the measure as they think that the Equality Act would give government the power to dictate how Americans think and act regarding gender and sex.  In an article in the conservative newspaper, The Wall St. Journal, 2/24/21, “The Equality Act Makes Women Unequal” by Inez T. Stepman, the author reports that the Equality Act would go much further by making it illegal to distinguish “identity” from biology and thereby prioritize transgender people over women.  The Equality Act would forbid policy makers from ever taking into consideration the differences between men and women that are necessary in order to guarantee safety and equality of sexes.”

President Biden is making the Equality Act a priority and with his pen will give the LGBTQ people their dignity and “rid the dark history of prejudice.

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Wesley Cullen Davidson

Wesley Cullen Davidson is an award-winning freelance writer and journalist specializing in parenting as well as gay and lesbian content. For the past two years, Wesley has concentrated almost exclusively on the lesbian and gay community, specifically on advising straight parents of gay children on how to be better parents and raise happy, well-adjusted adults

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