The House Judiciary Committee today approved the Equality Act, a wide-ranging bill banning discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, moving it to the full House, where a vote is expected to be scheduled soon.
The historic 22-10 committee vote, marking the first time the measure has advanced, went along party lines, with all Democrats voting for the bill and all Republicans against, tweeted Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality.
Keisling also released a statement on the bill, saying, “This vote is a historic recognition of the right of all people to live, labor, and learn without fear of prejudice or bigotry. Particularly as the Supreme Court weighs whether to confirm or take away existing sex discrimination protections, it is more crucial than ever that Congress stand up and help build the country transgender people need and every person deserves. We need members of Congress to vote for this bill as if transgender Americans’ lives depend on it, because they do depend on it.”
Vanita Gupta, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, also issued a statement: “Discrimination is wrong and runs counter to the fundamental American values of freedom and equality. Today’s committee vote takes us one step closer to ensuring equal opportunity and dignity for all LGBTQ individuals in America. We applaud Chairman [Jerrold] Nadler and Congressman [David] Cicilline for their leadership, and committee members for rejecting amendments that would dilute the legislation’s protections. The Equality Act is long overdue, and the House of Representatives must pass the bill.”
The Equality Act, the successor to the less expansive and never-enacted Employment Non-Discrimination Act, would amend existing law to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, housing, credit, public accommodations, and other venues. The Equality Act was introduced in two previous sessions of Congress but both times failed to advance out of commitee. ENDA was approved by the House in 2007 but not the Senate, and in 2013 by the Senate and not the House, so it never became law.
“It is time that the federal government recognizes that discrimination in any form is wrong, and that we should move forward with these common sense protections that simply build on existing statutes,” said Rep. Jerrold Nadler of New York, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, in his opening remarks to the members.
He stressed that the Equality Act would not interfere with religious freedom but “would provide uniform protection for certain basic, fundamental rights of all Americans. The ability to have a job, to receive medical care, or to rent a home should not depend on who someone is or where they live. And it certainly should not depend on who they love. By allowing an entire class of Americans to be held back by discrimination, we hold back our entire country. Today, we take an important step toward moving our nation forward instead.”
Cicilline, the gay Rhode Island congressman who introduced the measure, issued a statement after the committee vote. “Fairness and equality are core American values,” he said. “This bill affirms those values and ensures members of the LGBTQ community can live their lives free from the fear of legal discrimination of any kind. Equal treatment under the law is a founding principle of America and it’s absurd that, in 2019, members of the LGBTQ community can be fired from their jobs, denied service in a restaurant or get thrown out of their apartment because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. It’s very disappointing that, in 2019, most of my Republican colleagues are standing on the wrong side of history. This bill to end discrimination against the LGBTQ community is long overdue.”
Only 20 states have laws prohibiting employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, and one state bans employment discrimination based on sexual orientation only. There is a similar patchwork of laws regarding housing, public accommodations, and other aspects of life.
This story is developing. Check back for updates.