by Mike Andrew -
SGN Staff Writer
Congressional Democrats reintroduced the LGBTQ Equality Act on February 18. Openly Gay Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI) and Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) were the primary sponsors in their respective chambers.
The bill would add sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes under federal civil rights laws. The measure covers employment, housing, credit, education, and other areas, and explicitly extends sex discrimination protections to public accommodations and federally funded programs.
If the bill becomes law, LGBTQ individuals would be able to sue in federal courts to get relief from unlawful discrimination, and federal agencies like the FBI could launch civil rights investigations on behalf of LGBTQ plaintiffs.
Cicilline has introduced the bill in every Congress since 2015. In 2019, the Equality Act passed the US House by a vote of 236 to 173, with all House Democrats and eight Republicans voting yes. It was not even scheduled for a hearing in what was then a Republican-controlled Senate.
Democrats retained their control of the House in the 2020 election, so it seems likely that the measure will once again pass there.
The Senate remains problematic, however. Even though Democrats now control that chamber as well, the vote stands at 50-50, with Vice President Kamala Harris being the tie-breaker.
Several Democrats from conservative-leaning states have declined to sponsor the bill in the past. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and John Tester (D-MT) remain in the Senate and have not indicated whether they would vote for the bill if it came to the floor or not.
LGBTQ groups applaud
LGBTQ rights groups applauded the bill's reintroduction.
"Lambda Legal applauds the reintroduction of the Equality Act, long past-due federal legislation which provides clear, comprehensive, and explicit protections for LGBTQ people in federal law. Coupled with President Biden's early action applying the US Supreme Court's ruling in Bostock v. Clayton County to all federal laws currently prohibiting sex discrimination, we can see true equality on the horizon," the group said in a statement.
"And it can't happen soon enough: the LGBTQ community has been asking Congress for protections since Reps. Bella Abzug and Ed Koch first introduced the Equality Act of 1974, 47 years ago, and nearly fifty years of waiting is long enough."
PFLAG added that "we are calling on members of the House of Representatives and senators to pass the Equality Act.
"In 14 states right now, the rights of children to access healthcare or play school sports are in jeopardy because as transgender people, their right to protection from discrimination in health or education is not protected.
"In 21 states, a person who is LGBTQ+ can be denied service by a business, housing or food by a shelter, healthcare by a doctor, access to banking to buy a house or a car, and much more-simply for who they are."
Christian-right groups are appalled
Predictably, Christian-right groups rushed to condemn the legislation.
"This proposed legislation punishes and marginalizes people who hold decent and honorable beliefs about marriage or dare to believe the scientific evidence regarding the physical differences between men and women," the Alliance Defending Freedom said in a misleading press release.
"Many in our nation respectfully disagree on important matters such as marriage and human sexuality. Unfortunately, the Equality Act criminalizes these fundamental beliefs held by major faith groups since the dawn of time and, instead, demands absolute uniformity of thought."
QAnon Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) promptly declared war on the Equality Act, calling the effort to defend LGBT rights an attack on people of faith.
The far right-wing lawmaker falsely said the bill would force Christians to approve abortions. She also asserted it uses LGBTQ rights as a smokescreen to prevent religious people from living according to their beliefs.
"It has everything to do with attacking God & believers," Greene said. Greene called the bill "disgusting" and asserted it attacks women's rights, without elaborating.