The U.S. House of Representatives has once again passed the Equality Act, a comprehensive LGBTQ+ civil rights bill.
The House had approved the bill in 2019, but it never came to a vote in the Senate, which had a Republican majority then. Supporters are hoping for a better outcome this year, as the Senate is split 50-50 between Republicans and Democrats and Vice President Kamala Harris has the tie-breaking vote.
The vote in the House Thursday was 224-206, with three Republicans joining all the chamber’s Democrats in supporting the legislation. The three were Reps. John Katko and Tom Reed, both of New York, and Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania. Two Republicans did not 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 other aspects of life including education, credit, jury service, federal funding, housing, and public accommodations. 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 Joe Biden became president, he has promised to implement this decision throughout the federal government, and that started with an 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 said adoption of the act would be a priority in his first 100 days as president.
The bill was introduced in the House by out Rep. David Cicilline of Rhode Island, and LGBTQ+ ally Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon introduced the bill in his chamber. All nine LGBTQ+ members of the House voted for it. One of them, Mark Pocan of Wisconsin, delivered a stirring speech Thursday calling out the anti-LGBTQ+ and especially anti-trans actions of some Republicans.
LGBTQ+ and allied groups were jubilant over the House vote and called on the Senate to pass the act; it could face a barrier in that chamber because of the legislative procedure known as a filibuster — the requirement that it takes 60 votes, not a simple majority, to end debate on a bill and move to a vote on the bill itself. Some Democrats want to get rid of the filibuster.
A sampling of statements from various organizations:
“Today’s vote is a major milestone for equality bringing us closer to ensuring that every person is treated equally under the law.” — Human Rights Campaign President Alphonso David
“We applaud the House for supporting this bill once again, as it did in 2019, and urge the Senate to follow suit. As Black History Month concludes, we implore Senators to vote in favor of the Equality Act like their lives depend on it, as ours do.” — National Black Justice Coalition Executive Director David Johns
“The protections provided by the Equality Act are supported by more than 80 percent of the public, and the bill is supported by more than 100 religious organizations. Today’s bipartisan vote is just another demonstration that legislation is long overdue.” — Winnie Stachelberg, executive vice president for external affairs, Center for American Progress
“We cannot successfully fight HIV/AIDS without ending discrimination against the LGBTQ community. Overt or perceived discrimination is a major reason why many LGBTQ Americans do not seek out needed health care, including HIV testing, care, or prevention education. It also deeply affects such basic things as keeping HIV medications in their homes or accessing health care benefits through their employer. By ensuring their protection under the law in every state and territory, the Equality Act will have a tremendous impact on our efforts to end HIV by 2030.” — NMAC Executive Director Paul Kawata
“The House passage of The Equality Act is a victory for all Americans and for our country’s core values of equal treatment under law. This landmark civil rights law secures those protections for every LGBTQ person, to live without fear of discrimination.” — GLAAD President and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis
“It is disgraceful that until now, LGBTQ+ people were not included by name in these essential protections. We urge the US Senate to quickly pass the Equality Act so that LGBTQ+ people can finally receive the dignity and respect they deserve.” — Scott McCoy, interim deputy director, LGBTQ rights and special litigation, Southern Poverty Law Center
“Today, the U.S. House of Representatives passed, yet again, the Equality Act, as it has done in years past. And, once again, the Equality Act now goes to the U.S. Senate. We hope and trust this year, it will finally get the hearing in the Senate that it so richly deserves. After years of ignoring this important legislation, the Senate needs to take care of business and pass the Equality Act.” — Lambda Legal CEO Kevin Jennings
"Today’s bipartisan passage of the Equality Act is the result of decades of hard-fought activism by women, people of color, and the LGBTQ community — particularly transgender individuals of color — to ensure that no American faces discrimination based on their sex, gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or gender identity." — National Center for Lesbian Rights Executive Director Imani Rupert-Gordon
“This is a defining moment in our nation’s political history and soon U.S. senators will decide their legacy on equality for LGBTQ people. History is not kind to those who oppose or filibuster civil rights legislation and excuses won’t pass muster with future generations. An overwhelming number of Americans support the Equality Act — including a majority of Republicans — and today the U.S. House voted for the will of the people. It is imperative senators be given that same opportunity to vote and understand that the history books will remember their decision.” — LGBTQ Victory Institute President and CEO Annise Parker