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Obama Still Not Ready to Back Equality Act; But Biden Has

Obama Still Not Ready to Back Equality Act; But Biden Has

Reporter Asks White House: Whatever Happened to the Equality Act

The law would amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

Although Vice President Joe Biden endorsed the Equality Act this weekend, Barack Obama doesn't appear fully on board quite yet.

At a news conference on Tuesday, the Obama administration refused to endorse the legislation, which would amend the 1964 Civil Rights Act to include LGBT people in protection from discrimination in things such as employment, housing, credit, and public accommodations, among other areas.

When asked a pointed question from Washington Blade reporter Chris Johnson, press secretary Josh Earnest said he was "not prepared to say" that the president endorses the Equality Act.

That's odd because the vice president told the Human Rights Campaign in a keynote speech this weekend that's he's personally fully behind it. "We must pass federal non-discrimination legislation, and we must pass it now," Biden said, before outlining his own strategy for building national support.

Biden said more people need to know that in many states where same-sex marriage is now legal, people can still be fired on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. Some states have laws protecting LGBT people, but no federal law prevents a person from being fired or refused a job or denied housing on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

This isn't the first time Biden has outpaced Obama on LGBT equality issues. He famously caused a stir when backing marriage equality before the president. And in the HRC speech this weekend he also fully backed open service for transgender people in the military, a policy proposal still under review by the Defense Department.

For her part, Hillary Clinton also endorsed the Equality Act in a speech this weekend to the Human Rights Campaign, promising to sign it as president. And Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders is a sponsor of the bill in the Senate.

"This is a piece of legislation that the White House does continue to review," Earnest said, "There's significant consequences to this bill going into effect. It has an impact on housing law and a variety of other policies in the federal government, so it's something that's still being carefully reviewed by the administration."

Earnest said President Obama does support the idea underlying the bill, which was introduced in July with record Democratic support.

"The president believes the passage of comprehensive legislation that protects LGBT Americans from discrimination would mark an important step toward that outcome," Earnest said, "but when it comes to this specific piece of legislation, it's something that is still under review by the administration."

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Elizabeth Daley