Congressional Democrats introduced broad legislation that would establish the first federal LGBTQ anti-discrimination protections, called the Equality Act, on Thursday. During his presidential campaign, President Joe Biden promised to prioritize the act’s passage within his first 100 days in office.
“In 2021, every American should be treated with respect and dignity,” Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), who has reintroduced the bill every session since 2015, said in a statement. “Yet, in most states, LGBTQ people can be discriminated against because of who they are, or who they love. It is past time for that to change.”
If enacted, the legislation would update current civil rights laws to include federal anti-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people. It would update the Fair Housing Act, Civil Rights Act of 1964, Equal Credit Opportunity Act, Jury Selection and Services Act, and laws around federal government employment. Currently, federal law does not prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. This means that protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer people vary greatly by state, which leaves many vulnerable to potential discrimination.
According to Cicilline, “In 27 states, a person can be denied housing because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. LGBTQ people can also be denied access to education in 31 states, and the right to serve on a jury in 41 states.”
Biden has already issued an executive order that directed federal agencies to implement a 2020 Supreme Court decision, Bostock v. Clayton County, which granted LGBTQ individuals protections from employment discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. But Human Rights Campaign President Alphonso David emphasized that while Bostock is important, passing the Equality Act would go a step further.
“While President Biden’s Executive Order implementing the Supreme Court’s Bostock ruling was a crucial step in addressing discrimination against LGBTQ people, it’s still vital that Congress pass the Equality Act to codify the Bostock decision to ensure protection in key areas of life including where existing civil rights laws do not have protections on the basis of sex,” David said in a statement.
The House already passed the Equality Act last session, in May of 2019. It passed with a bipartisan 236-173 vote, but it was blocked by then-senate majority leader Mitch McConnell from further consideration. The House is scheduled to bring the bill to the floor next week.
The protections in the Equality Act are relatively popular with Americans. According to a 2018 PRRI poll, seven in 10 Americans support laws protecting against discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations based on sexual orientation and gender identity.