Loading...

House Votes to Expand Legal Safeguards for LGBTQ People

February 26, 2021by Kevin Freking, Associated Press
House Votes to Expand Legal Safeguards for LGBTQ People
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., speaks about the Congress Equality Act, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Democratic-led House passed a bill Thursday that would enshrine LGBTQ protections in the nation’s labor and civil rights laws, a top priority of President Joe Biden, though the legislation faces an uphill battle in the Senate.

The bill passed by a vote of 224-206 with three Republicans joining Democrats in voting yes.

The Equality Act amends existing civil rights law to explicitly include sexual orientation and gender identification as protected characteristics. The protections would extend to employment, housing, loan applications, education, public accommodations and other areas. Supporters say the law before the House on Thursday is long overdue and would ensure that every person is treated equally under the law.

“The LGBT community has waited long enough,” said Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., who is gay and the bill’s lead sponsor. “The time has come to extend the blessings of liberty and equality to all of Americans regardless of who they are and who they love.”

Republicans broadly opposed the legislation. They echoed concerns from religious groups and social conservatives who worry the bill would force people to take actions that contradict their religious beliefs. They warned that faith-based adoption agencies seeking to place children with a married mother and father could be forced to close, or that private schools would have to hire staff whose conduct violates tenets of the school’s faith.

“This is unprecedented. It’s dangerous. It’s an attack on our first freedom, the first freedom listed in the Bill of Rights, religious liberty,” said Rep. Mike Johnson, R-La.

The House passed the Equality Act in the last Congress with unanimous Democratic support and the backing of eight Republicans, but Donald Trump’s White House opposed the measure and it was not considered in the Senate, where 60 votes will be needed to overcome procedural hurdles. Democrats are trying to revive it now that they have control of Congress and the White House, but passage still appears unlikely in the evenly divided Senate.

This time, Republican Reps. Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania and John Katko and Tom Reed of New York sided with Democrats in voting for the bill.

The Supreme Court provided the LGBTQ community with a resounding victory last year in a 6-3 ruling that said the Civil Rights Act of 1964 applied to LGBTQ workers when it comes to barring discrimination on the basis of sex. Civil rights groups have encouraged Congress to follow up that decision and ensure that anti-bias protections addressing such areas as housing, public accommodations and public services are applied in all 50 states.

Biden made clear his support for the Equality Act in the lead-up to last year’s election, saying it would be one of his first priorities.

Democratic Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon, D-Penn., said the Equality Act is needed to end “the patchwork of state laws” around gay rights and create “uniform nationwide protection.”

“It’s been personal since my baby sister came out to me almost 40 years ago,” Scanlon said. “For many people all across this country and across this House, that is when the fight hits home.”

The debate among lawmakers on Capitol Hill also become personal. Rep. Marie Newman, D-Ill., whose daughter is transgender, tweeted a video of herself placing a transgender flag outside her office. Her office is across the hall from Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., who was recently blocked from serving on two committees because of past comments and tweets.

“Our neighbor, @RepMTG, tried to block the Equality Act because she believes prohibiting discrimination against trans Americans is “disgusting, immoral, and evil.” Thought we’d put up our Transgender flag so she can look at it every time she opens her door.,” Newman tweeted.

Greene responded with a video of her own in which she puts up a sign that reads: “There are Two genders: MALE and FEMALE. “Trust The Science!”

“Our neighbor, @RepMarieNewman, wants to pass the so-called “Equality” Act to destroy women’s rights and religious freedoms. Thought we’d put up ours so she can look at it every time she opens her door,” Greene tweeted.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., pointed to the exchange to advocate for the bill Thursday.

“It breaks my heart that it is necessary, but the fact is, and in fact we had a sad event here even this morning, demonstrating the need for us to have respect,” Pelosi said, at one point pausing and taking a deep sigh. “Not even just respect, but take pride, take pride in our LGBT community.”

Gay and lesbian members of Congress spoke about how meaningful the bill is for them.

“Look, we’re not asking for anything that any other American doesn’t already enjoy,” said Rep. Chris Pappas, D-N.H. “We just want to be treated the same. We just want politicians in Washington to catch up with the times and the Constitution.”

Leaders at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops wrote lawmakers this week to say they had grave concerns about the bill. Among the concerns they raised is that the bill would expand the government’s definition of public places, forcing church halls and equivalent facilities to host functions that violate their beliefs, which could lead to closing their doors to the broader community.

Republicans cited an array of consequences they said could occur if the bill passed into law, from eliminating the existing ban on the use of government funds for abortion, to allowing transgender people into women’s shelters and transgender youth into girls sports. Democrats likened the effort to past civil rights battles in the nation’s history.

Cicilline challenged Republicans, “I hope you will bear in mind how your vote will be remembered years from now.”

Some of the nation’s largest corporations are part of a coalition in support of the legislation, including Apple Inc., AT&T, Chevron and 3M Co., just to name a few of the hundreds of companies that have endorsed it.

After the vote advocacy groups weighed in, with the Human Rights Campaign describing the vote as “bringing us closer to ensuring that every person is treated equally under the law.” Meanwhile, the conservative Alliance Defending Freedom called on the Senate to “reject this dangerous bill — for the good of all Americans.”

In The News

Health

Voting

Civil Rights

Abortion Ruling a Galvanizing Moment in American Life

WASHINGTON — From the president of the United States to ordinary citizens as far away as Hawaii and Guam, nearly... Read More

WASHINGTON — From the president of the United States to ordinary citizens as far away as Hawaii and Guam, nearly everyone, it seemed by Friday afternoon, was talking about the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn two landmark precedents enshrining abortion as a constitutional right. Speaking... Read More

June 23, 2022
by Natalie McCormick
Events Around Washington Celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Title IX

WASHINGTON — Fifty  years ago today, 37 words changed the game for women all around America. Thursday marks the 50th... Read More

WASHINGTON — Fifty  years ago today, 37 words changed the game for women all around America. Thursday marks the 50th anniversary of Title IX, which Richard Nixon signed into law on June 23, 1972.  The law states that “no person in the United States shall, on... Read More

June 23, 2022
by Reece Nations
Future of Title IX Becomes Clearer on Its Anniversary

WASHINGTON — As Title IX turns 50 this week, experts weigh in to discuss how its recent history could hint... Read More

WASHINGTON — As Title IX turns 50 this week, experts weigh in to discuss how its recent history could hint at what’s still to come for the landmark educational sexual discrimination law. When Title IX was being formulated in Congress, the lawmakers that conceived it couldn’t... Read More

June 23, 2022
by Dan McCue
Supreme Court Rules ‘Miranda’ Violation Not Grounds for Civil Rights Claim

WASHINGTON — For two generations, the words “you have the right to remain silent,” had been such a reliable part... Read More

WASHINGTON — For two generations, the words “you have the right to remain silent,” had been such a reliable part of American life — not to mention innumerable cop shows and movies — that they had almost become a cliche. It was the outcome of a... Read More

June 21, 2022
by Reece Nations
Title IX’s Lasting Legacy at 50: How Its History Defines the Present

WASHINGTON — Title IX of the Education Amendments, the comprehensive federal law prohibiting sexual discrimination by any federally funded education... Read More

WASHINGTON — Title IX of the Education Amendments, the comprehensive federal law prohibiting sexual discrimination by any federally funded education program or activity, first became law on June 23, 1972, and its impact on the public education system still persists today. The law came as a... Read More

June 17, 2022
by Dan McCue
Cert Petition Decisions on Tuesday Could Spell the True End of Bivens Precedent

WASHINGTON — The line originally comes from Ecclesiastes 3 in the King James version of The Bible, but is likely... Read More

WASHINGTON — The line originally comes from Ecclesiastes 3 in the King James version of The Bible, but is likely better known to generations of music fans due to the autumn 1965 hit “Turn! Turn! Turn!” by The Byrds. “To every thing,” the good book and... Read More

News From The Well