The U.S. House of Representatives is reportedly scheduled for a floor vote Friday on HR 5, the Equality Act (.pdf), legislation that seeks to ban anti-LGBT discrimination by amending the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Fair Housing Act to ban anti-LGBT discrimination in employment, housing, public accommodations, jury service, education, federal programs and credit.
The bill also seeks to update federal law to include sex in the list of protected classes in public accommodation in addition to expanding the definition of public accommodations to include retail stores, banks, transportation services and health care services. Further, the Equality Act would establish that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act — a 1994 law aimed at protecting religious liberty — can’t be used to enable anti-LGBT discrimination.
The Advocate reported, Full House Vote on Equality Act Expected
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The House Judiciary Committee approved the bill last week, voting 22-10 to advance it to the full House. All Democrats on the committee voted for it, all Republicans against.
This is the third session of Congress in which the act has been introduced and the first one in which it has advanced out of committee. The act would amend existing civil rights laws to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity nationwide in employment, housing, public accommodations, credit, jury service, and other aspects of life. It is the successor to the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which dealt with employment alone and never became law.
The legislation has 240 cosponsors, mostly Democrats, but including three Republicans. Therefore, it should easily pass the Democratic-controlled House, where 218 votes constitute a majority. Its fate in the Senate is open to question, as Republicans hold a slim majority there. And if it passes both the House and Senate, Donald Trump is not likely to sign it into law.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said she will make passage of the act a priority in this session. The lead sponsor in the House is Rep. David Cicilline of Rhode Island; the lead sponsor in the Senate is Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon. Both are Democrats.
There could be roadblocks thrown in front of the bill even in the House, though. “Republicans in the House have an opportunity to thwart the bill with a motion to recommit, a legislative maneuver that forces a vote on an amendment the majority would otherwise not allow to come up,” the Blade notes. “It remains to be seen what the nature of the motion to recommit will be for the Equality Act.”
When Barack Obama was president, the Departments of Labor and Justice held that the ban on sex discrimination in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 also covered discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, but courts remained free to interpret that law. The Trump administration has taken the opposite stance, even arguing in court that the law does not prohibit such discrimination. The Supreme Court has agreed to hear cases regarding the law’s scope. Passage of the Equality Act, however, would remove any uncertainty.
Press release from the Human Rights Campaign (May 8, 2019):
Today, HRC announced that more than 200 of the nation’s leading businesses have now joined HRC’s Business Coalition for the Equality Act. With a combined operation in all 50 states, headquarters in 29 states, more than $4.5 trillion in revenue, and more than 10.4 million employees across the United States, these companies know how important it is to have a federal legal standard that guarantees all employees the same rights and protections — no matter where they live. Expected to receive a vote in the U.S. House of Representatives soon, the bipartisan legislation also has unprecedented support from nearly 70% of Americans, hundreds of members of Congress and more than 500 statewide and national organizations, including social justice, religious, medical and child welfare organizations.
“Today, HRC’s Business Coalition for the Equality Act has surpassed more than 200 companies urging Congress to pass comprehensive non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people,” said HRC President Chad Griffin. “Every LGBTQ person deserves to earn a living, raise their families and live their lives free from discrimination. And these leading companies know that protecting their employees and customers from discrimination isn’t just the right thing to do — it’s also good for business.”
The bipartisan Equality Act would finally add clear, comprehensive non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people to our nation’s civil rights laws. Currently, 50 percent of LGBTQ Americans live in the 30 states that still lack statewide legal non-discrimination protections, leaving their residents and visitors at risk of being fired, denied housing, or refused service because of who they are or who they love. [This includes Arizona.]
Discrimination is a real and persistent problem for LGBTQ Americans. HRC polling has found that nearly two-thirds of self-identified LGBTQ Americans report experiencing discrimination. The Equality Act would extend existing civil rights protections to LGBTQ people by prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity across key areas of life, including employment, housing, credit, education, public spaces and services, federally-funded programs and jury service.
Recent polling shows that a growing majority of Americans support federal non-discrimination protections and LGBTQ equality. A recent survey by PRRI found that seven in 10 Americans (71 percent) support laws like the Equality Act. In addition, post-election polling from HRC found that 60 percent of voters in the 2018 midterms opposed the Trump-Pence administration’s reported plans to define gender entirely by sex assigned at birth, thereby potentially excluding transgender people from civil rights protections. Overall, voters also identified protecting the rights of groups targeted by the Trump-Pence administration as their top reason for voting to flip the U.S. House.
In March, HRC launched a public awareness and advertising campaign called “Americans for the Equality Act.” Filmed by award-winning directors Dustin Lance Black and Paris Barclay, the series debut video featured Academy Award-winning actress Sally Field and her son Sam Greisman. The campaign has so far also featured transgender singer and songwriter Shea Diamond, actress Justina Machado, U.S. Olympian Adam Rippon, Queer Eye’s Karamo Brown, and Modern Family’s Jesse Tyler Ferguson and his husband Justin Mikita.
TOMORROW — FIRST-EVER CONGRESSIONAL VOTE ON THE EQUALITY ACT: Ahead of this historic vote, the coalition to pass the Equality Act will hand-deliver petitions today signed by over 168,812 Americans to original sponsor Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) urging Congress to pass H.R. 5. The crucially important, bipartisan legislation would provide clear, comprehensive non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people and strengthen existing protections for all people covered by our nation’s civil rights laws. The measure has unprecedented support from nearly 70 percent of Americans, more than 280 members of Congress, more than 200 major businesses, 70 faith organizations, and more than 500 national, state and local organizations. The legislation prioritized by Speaker Pelosi would ensure LGBTQ people are protected under the nation’s civil rights laws.
Contact your members of Congress and senators in support of this long overdue bill.