The House of Representatives are set to vote Thursday on the Equality Act, which if passed would prohibit discrimination against sexual orientation and gender identity. The Equality Act is a bill President Biden said he would sign in the first 100 days of office.
The Equality Act was introduced last week by House democrats, according to NPR. NPR wrote that this bill is “controversial,” as it has House democrat support but opposition from republicans. Conservative republicans view that the Equality Act infringes on their religious objects, while democrats see the bill as expanding protections of those within the LGBTQ community, according to NPR.
NPR reported that President Biden spoke his support of the bill last week, stating all people should be treated with the same respect. Biden also released an official White House statement on February, 19.
“I urge Congress to swiftly pass this historic legislation,” Biden wrote. “Every person should be treated with dignity and respect, and this bill represents a critical step toward ensuring that America lives up to our foundational values of equality and freedom for all.”
WHAT IS THE EQUALITY ACT?
The Equality Act would amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964—which banned discrimination based on race, religion, national origin—so it explicitly prevents discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, according to USA Today. NPR described the bill that it would “explicitly enshrine those nondiscrimination protections into law” rather than allowing them to be brushed under the umbrella term “sex.” Additionally, the bill would also “substantially expand those protections.”
NPR further expanded that while the Civil rights Act covered areas like employment and housing, the Equality Act would expand to cover federally funded programs and “public accommodations,” such as retail stores or stadiums. Under this umbrella term “public accommodations,” it also expands further to include prohibiting discrimination based on race and religion, just as the Civil Rights Act does.
USA Today reported that while several states already have anti-discrimination laws in place, advocates like the Human Rights Campaign retort that the “patchwork” of today’s laws across the states leave “LGBTQ Americans vulnerable to discrimination.” According to NPR, the Equality Act would cover states that do not already have LGBTQ anti-discrimination laws in place, as this bill is national.
While last June the Supreme Court ruled in Bostock v. Clay County, extending workplace protections to LGBTQ individuals, activist groups state that the Equality Act would “create explicit federal protections for LGBTQ Americans beyond the workplace,” according to USA Today.
Supporters state that the Equality Act “simply extends basic, broadly accepted tenets of the Civil Rights Act to classes of people that the bill doesn’t explicitly protect,” NPR reported. Additionally, they state that this bill would solidify protections that could otherwise be left to interpretation.
The main issues for those in opposition to the bill is the question of religious freedom, NPR said.
NPR reported that the Equality Act also “explicitly” states that it takes precedence over the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). The RFRA is a law that was passed in 1993 that raised the bar for the government to defend individuals who claimed certain laws infringed on their religious freedom, according to NPR. They explained that under the Equality Act “an entity couldn’t use RFRA to challenge the act’s provisions, nor could it use RFRA as a defense to a claim made under the act.”
COULD THE BILL PASS?
In 2019 a bill similar to the Equality Act was passed by the House but died in the then republican-controlled Senate, USA Today reported. At the time, it was a unanimous vote for democrats and an additional eight republicans who voted for the bill to pass. USA Today wrote that it is expected that all House democrats will vote to pass the bill, but currently “no Republicans have co-sponsored this year’s version of the legislation.”
According to USA Today, House republican leaders have recommended GOP lawmakers vote against the Equality Act, but are not pushing them, calling it a “vote of conscience.”
USA further reported that it is “very likely” that the bill will pass the democratic-controlled House, but it “faces uncertain future” in the Senate. If the Equality Act passes the House, it would then need 60 votes in the Senate—this would mean all Senate democrats and an additional 10 Senate republican votes to pass.