In March of 2019, Congressional Democrats introduced the Equality Act, a bill that NBC News reported would modify existing civil rights legislation to ban discrimination against LGBTQ people in housing, employment, public accommodations, jury service, education, federal programs, and credit.
What do you mean by “modify existing civil rights legislation”?
The Human Rights Campaign, arguably the most prominent LGBTQ+ civil rights advocacy group and political lobbying organization in the United States, has a page explaining The Equality Act:
The Equality Act would amend existing civil rights law—including the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Fair Housing Act, the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, the Jury Selection and Services Act, and several laws regarding employment with the federal government—to explicitly include sexual orientation and gender identity as protected characteristics. The legislation also amends the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to prohibit discrimination in public spaces and services and federally funded programs on the basis of sex.
Additionally, the Equality Act would update the public spaces and services covered in current law to include retail stores, services such as banks and legal services, and transportation services. These important updates would strengthen existing protections for everyone.
Eugene Scott of The Washington Post reported that The Equality Act was first introduced in 2015 but could not make it through Congress. In an article for NBC News, Tim Fitzsimons pointed out that the 2015 bill was a version of a bill introduced in 1974.
This type of discrimination isn’t already against the law?
Not in the federal sense, no. The Movement Advancement Project, a nonprofit think tank, tracks the various state-by-state laws and policies pertaining to LGBTQ+ people. Some states have more protections than others, and some states have no protections at all.
In the NBC article, Fitzsimons quoted David Cicilline of Rhode Island. Cicilline is The Equality Act’s main sponsor in the House and one of 10 openly LGBTQ members of Congress. Cicilline said:
In most states in this country, a gay couple can be married on Saturday, post their wedding photos to Instagram on Sunday, and lose their jobs or get kicked out of their apartments on Monday just because of who they are… This is wrong… We are reintroducing the Equality Act in order to fix this.
To become law, the bill will have to go through the steps other bills go through, meaning it would be debated and voted upon in the House of Representatives. If it passes there, it goes to the Senate, and if there, it gets signed by the president. If the president vetoes the bill, two-thirds of the Senate and House could override the bill.
Right. That’s civics. What I was really asking was how likely it was this could happen?
Senator Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin told NBC News that if Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell were to let this go to a vote in the senate, it could pass. “If you just had an up or down vote, we would have sufficient votes in both houses,” Baldwin said. David Popp, McConnell’s press secretary, didn’t shed any light on whether McConnell would give the vote a chance and instead e-mailed NBC News to say, “If the Leader issues a statement on this I’ll be sure to forward it to you.”
Has there been any pushback on The Equality Act?
Andrew Walker, a senior fellow at the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, wrote in the Gospel Coalition that the bill threatens and undermines religious freedoms:
As I wrote in 2015, when the Equality Act was first introduced, the bill represents the most invasive threat to religious liberty ever proposed in America. Given that it touches areas of education, public accommodation, employment, and federal funding, were it to pass, its sweeping effects on religious liberty, free speech, and freedom of conscience would be both historic and also chilling…
…To be clear, Christians reject all forms of invidious discrimination. We believe all persons, including those who identify as LGBT, are made in God’s image and deserve respect, kindness, and neighborliness. But this truth does not necessitate Christian capitulation to the sexual revolution. No Christian who believes that the Bible’s depiction of created reality is both sacred and also authoritative can accept the Equality Act’s underlying tenets. By codifying the ideas that (1) sexuality has no core ethical limits other than consent, and that (2) male and female definitions are psychologically based, rather than biologically based, the Equality Act must be interpreted as an assault on Christian institutions and especially on parental rights—since public education will be transformed to follow the law’s provisions. It will further lead to the corrosion of our public discourse, the type of discourse that breeds zero-sum outcomes.
Do many people share that view?
NBC News pointed to a recent poll from the Public Religion Research Institute that said in every religion, party and US state, more than 50 percent of people polled support nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people. At least 161 companies have backed such legislation. But the Washington Post said that according to that same poll, “nearly two-thirds of Republicans say small-business owners should be allowed to refuse service to LGBTQ people. More than 6 in 10 white evangelicals agree.”
At least 161 companies have publicly supported nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people. Tim Cook, Apple’s openly gay CEO, tweeted his support of the bill:
Nobody should be discriminated against because of who they are or who they love. The #EqualityAct is a step forward—protecting everyone from discrimination in housing, employment and in the public square. We hope Congress works together to make it the law of the land.
Does President Trump support the bill?
He has yet to comment on The Equality Act since it was reintroduced in 2019. But in a 2000 interview with The Advocate, during which Trump discussed what he would be like as a president, he was quoted as saying:
I like the idea of amending the 1964 Civil Rights Act to include a ban of discrimination based on sexual orientation. It would be simple. It would be straightforward. We don’t need to rewrite the laws currently on the books, although I do think we need to address hate-crimes legislation. But amending the Civil Rights Act would grant the same protection to gay people that we give to other Americans — it’s only fair.
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