A major victory for LGBTQ rights: U.S. House approves “Equality Act”

Pride
Questions on policy issues the LGBTQ community faces. CD Davidson-Hiers/Florida Phoenix

WASHINGTON — U.S. House lawmakers on Friday voted to approve sweeping legislation aimed at barring discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, in spite of broad opposition from House Republicans.

In a major victory for LGBTQ rights advocates, the House approved the bill, dubbed the Equality Act, by a vote of 236-173, including eight Republican votes.

The measure would amend the 1964 Civil Rights Act by explicitly banning discrimination based on sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity in education, employment, housing, credit and the jury system.

House Democrats celebrated the bill’s passage as a landmark achievement by Congress.

Rep. Donna Shalala (D-Fla.) said that “in Florida and many other states, LGBTQ Americans are still at risk of being fired, evicted, denied services because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.”

She called the passage of the Equality Act a fitting way to commemorate the anniversary of the uprising at Stonewall in New York City, which took place in June 1969 and is considered the birth of the the modern LGBT rights movement.

Rep. Greg Stanton (D-Ariz.) said, “When it comes to equality, there is no doubt we have come a long way. But following a landmark Supreme Court ruling that legalized gay marriage in all 50 states, the hard truth is that discrimination based on sexual orientation is still permitted under the law. LGBTQ individuals face this reality every day, that they may receive different, unfair treatment in employment, housing, public accommodation, public education and more. We are better than that.”

Currently, less than half of the U.S. states have enacted their own laws that explicitly prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, according to the Movement Advancement Project, a nonprofit think tank.

Despite the fanfare in the House, the effort is unlikely to be enacted into law this Congress. The Senate companion version has one Republican co-sponsor, Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, but is unlikely to garner broad GOP support in that chamber. And the administration opposes the effort.

“The Trump administration absolutely opposes discrimination of any kind and supports the equal treatment of all,” an administration official told NBC News. “However, this bill in its current form is filled with poison pills that threaten to undermine parental and conscience rights.”

House Republicans assailed the effort, warning that Democrats don’t understand the reach of the bill.

“Its vague and circular definitions of gender identity will lead only to uncertainty, litigation and harm to individuals and organizations that will be forced to comply with a law the authors don’t even seem to understand,” said Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.).

Rep. Greg Steube (R-Fla.) said the bill would have “grave consequences” for religious freedom by forcing religious organizations to go against their beliefs or risk violating the law. He and others also warned that female athletes could be forced to compete against biologically male athletes.

Democrats accused their GOP colleagues of playing up fears about the bill as a distraction.

In Florida, supporters praised the House action.

The nonprofit Equality Florida called the act “the most comprehensive LGBTQ civil rights legislation ever filed in Congress and establishes protections in essential areas of life including housing, employment, public spaces, education, credit and even jury service. Today’s passage serves as a critical and historic milestone in the fight to protect LGBTQ Americans from discrimination.”

“This is a remarkable moment in the fight for LGBTQ equality,” Nadine Smith, executive director of Equality Florida, said in a news release.

“Every American deserves to be treated with dignity and respect regardless of who they are or who they love. We are grateful to the bipartisan coalition of lawmakers in the Florida congressional delegation who’ve lent their support and votes to this historic measure. And now we turn our eyes to Senator Rick Scott and Senator Marco Rubio who can call right now for this bill to be brought to the U.S. Senate floor. History will remember us by the way we protect our most vulnerable communities.”

 

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