During a virtual town hall last week, New York Senator and Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer discussed the Equality Act, the House-passed legislation that could enshrine protections for all LGBTQ+ Americans in housing, education, voting, immigration, parenting rights, jury service, public accommodation, and more. In the call, Schumer discussed the bill's chances and what supporters of the important legislation can do to ensure it's passed. After Schumer's remarks, New Pride Agenda project manager Celeclia Gentili asked the Majority Leader for more details, including potentially circumventing the filibuster. Read an exclusive excerpt below:
Virtual Town Hall, April 8, 2021:
“Four words are inscribed in stone above the Supreme Court, Equal Justice Under Law. In many ways, the story of America has been making those words true for all Americans. It’s been a bumpy road and a long struggle but when you fight, you get there…
“I'm very proud to partner with Speaker Pelosi and members of the House and Senate to reintroduce the Equality Act. This is essential, urgent and long overdue legislation that will move us closer to a society where all Americans are treated equally under the law.
“Even today, signs of discrimination based on sexual orientation abound. From education to housing, to family planning, from the workplace, to adoption, to immigration discrimination against LGBTQ+ people remains a serious problem that demands Congress’ attention. As majority leader, I'm committed to getting it that focus and attention. Congress must pass the Equality Act so that LGBTQ+ Americans will no longer have to face discrimination in these most basic areaas of life.
“The legislation is personal for me and for millions of American families across this country. Just six years ago LGBTQ Americans like my daughter won the legal right to marry who they love. She and her wife have a happy life now. If marriage hadn’t been available to them, it would have been much much worse for them. The Equality Act would make sure that my daughter can continue living her life with the security and dignity of knowing she won’t face basic discrimination because of who she is. No LGBTQ+ American should ever face discrimination because of who they are or who they love.
“When the Equality Act was passed by the House last Congress, it was a bipartisan vote. Yet for years, leader Mitch McConnell buried the Equality Act, like he buried many other commonsense bipartisan House-passed bills. It was what we called his legislative graveyard. Now, Democrats are in the majority and one of my powers as majority leader is to put bills on the floor. The Senate will finally have the opportunity to act on this critical civil rights legislation among several other bills that have been neglected in the Senate for far too long.
“I’m hopeful that just like in the House, the Equality Act will pass the Senate with bipartisan support. It’s great now that we have an ally in the White House with President Biden who has promised to make the Equality Act a priority.
“The bottom line is simple: LGBTQ+ Americans deserve the same protections as other Americans. Democrats and your majority leader will fight tooth and nail to make sure these are implemented at the federal level. Discrimination against LGBTQ Americans should be over once and for all, and should be the law of the land in every aspect of our lives.”
How will you, as Senate Majority leader be able to get this comprehensive bill passed and to the president’s desk?
The most significant power I have as Majority Leader is to decide which bills come to the floor. The Equality Act is very popular with the American people, but McConnell didn't want to force anybody to vote on it. I will. The Equality Act will get a vote in the Senate. Every senator will be forced to show where they stand on this issue. They won't be able to duck and hide.
I've asked several of my members who are leaders of this bill, including Jeff Merkley, to reach out to Republican senators. We want to work with them to build support on the other side of the aisle. I'm hopeful that these conversations will bear fruit. Merkly is making progress, as are some of the others. But, if we don't come together as a caucus, we're going to…. decide on the best way to move forward because this is so important. It’s what America is all about.
If the filibuster is still in intact, will you work with colleagues on the other side of the aisle to pass a deal and get those 60 votes?
We have no choice; I mean I don't want this to be a partisan issue. This is an American issue, it shouldn't be a left or right or center, it shouldn't be Democrat or Republican. It should be, “this is what America is about, equal justice under the law, plain and simple.” So we're going to work really hard to get our Republican colleagues to join us. You know in the House it got bipartisan support. Every day there are more people, more voters in the Republican Party who feel that this is the right thing to do who are putting pressure on their senators. And I know that the many strong commuinity groups will continue to do that as well. We’re gonna put a lot of heat on. They' are going to know from the get-go that they're not going to be able to duck. I think a lot of them, once they can't duck, will make the right decision and vote for it.
What would you say to people that said that this is not a federal issue?
Of course, it's a federal issue. In America our ideals are the same in every state and the reason is even if you live in New York, when you travel you want to make sure you're protected equally… in every state. It has to be a federal issue, people travel all over, people move. There is no question this is a federal issue. The idea of leaving it up to the states, you don't leave bigotry up to the states, you try to stomp it out.
Is there anything we can do to help you in this effort?
Yes, let me talk to my fellow New Yorkers. You have two senators who are for the bill, for the Equality Act. But everyone on across this country has relatives, friends, family in other states. Call them, tell them to tell their senators that we want them to vote for the Equality Act. Reach out, make a note to yourself: I'm going to speak to five people in states with Republican senators, and get them to call them and say I want this done. This kind of pressure works. Even if you're in a state with two Democratic senators or two senators who support the Equality Act you can reach out to people in other states. That's helpful, that's a grassroots army working.