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U.S. House to Vote on Equality Act Next Week, Majority Leader Says

equality act
Photo by Anete Lusina from Pexels

The act, which would ban anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination in employment, housing, public accommodations, and more, is a priority of President Joe Biden.

The U.S. House of Representatives will vote next week on the Equality Act, a comprehensive piece of LGBTQ+ civil rights legislation.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer laid out the schedule in a letter to colleagues that was obtained by the Washington Blade. Now that the impeachment trial of Donald Trump is over, Hoyer wrote, the House will focus on President Joe Biden's COVID-19 relief bill but also two other measures.

"Other legislation coming to the floor next week are two bills that passed through the House last Congress: a wilderness package and the Equality Act, which will end legal discrimination against LGBTQ Americans," the Maryland Democrat wrote.

The House passed the Equality Act in 2019, with most Democrats voting for it and most Republicans against, but it failed to receive a vote in the Senate, which then had a Republican majority. The House still has a Democratic majority, so passage there is likely, and the Senate is now split 50-50 between the parties, with Vice President Kamala Harris having the tie-breaking vote.

The act would amend existing civil rights laws, such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Fair Housing Act of 1968, to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. In addition to employment and housing, it would ban such discrimination in aspects of life including credit, public accommodations, education, and more. It would also make clear that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1994 does not provide legal cover for anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination. It is the successor to the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, a narrower piece of legislation that never passed both houses of Congress in the same session.

The Supreme Court's decision last year in Bostock v. Clayton County established that anti-LGBTQ+ employment discrimination is sex discrimination and therefore not allowed under the Civil Rights Act. Since Biden became president, he has promised to implement this decision throughout the federal government, and that started with last week's announcement from the Department of Housing and Urban Development prohibiting such discrimination in housing. But passage of the Equality Act would make it much harder for a future court decision or president to undo bans on discrimination.

Biden has pledged to make passage of the act a priority in his first 100 days in office. Rep. David Cicilline is set to introduce it in the House and Sen. Jeff Merkley in the Senate, as they did previously.

The House will likely take up the bill February 25, Hoyer aide Katie Drew Grant told the Blade, but that could change depending on the schedule for COVID relief legislation.

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