Mark Kirk Is First GOP Senator to Cosponsor Equality Act

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The Equality Act now has bipartisan support in both the U.S. House and Senate, with the announcement by Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois that he has signed on as a cosponsor. 

“Discrimination on the basis of being gay is against the law in Illinois and should be against the law nationwide,” Kirk told BuzzFeed, which broke the story.

Kirk was cheered by Human Rights Campaign president Chad Griffin: “His support for the Equality Act sends a strong message that fairness and equality are bipartisan values. It also reflects the view of the overwhelming majority of all Americans who believe that everyone, including LGBT people, should be able to have a fair chance to earn a living, provide for their families, and live free from fear of discrimination.”

The bill, endorsed by President Obama last month, would amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and other federal laws to protect Americans from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity in employment, housing, public accommodations, and several other areas. 

But even though least one member of the GOP in each chamber supports the bill, most Republicans oppose it, and their control of both the House and Senate means the bill is unlikely to pass this session. 

Democrats Jeff Merkley of Oregon, out senator Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, and Cory Booker of New Jersey are the lead sponsors in the Senate; David Cicilline of Rhode Island, also a Democrat, is the lead sponsor in the House.

Kirk’s support is seen as an encouraging sign, said Sen, Merkley. “In communities across America, Republicans and Democrats alike share a common belief that discriminating against someone just because of who they are is fundamentally wrong,” he told BuzzFeed. “It is time for all Americans to work together to end long-standing discrimination against the LGBT community.”

Last week, Rep. Bob Dold, also of Illinois, because the first Republican cosponsor of the Equality Act. 

Although he called the bill “not perfect in its current form,” Dold issued a statement heralding what he described as “an important first step” toward bipartisan support of equal rights for all Americans. 

“Illinois has a long and proud history of fighting for equal rights, and I am proud to continue this tradition by supporting the Equality Act. Engraved on the front of the Supreme Court is the phrase ‘equal justice under the law,’ but as long as any Americans can be legally discriminated against, there is not equal justice in this country,” the congressman said in a statement last week.