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House passes sweeping LGBTQ rights bill

The Equality Act faces a tougher battle in the Senate, where 60 votes must be found to bypass a filibuster.
A rainbow flag waves in the wind at the Stonewall National Monument outside the Stonewall Inn in New York
A rainbow flag at the Stonewall National Monument outside the Stonewall Inn in New York City on June 4, 2019.Mike Segar / Reuters

The House on Thursday passed the Equality Act, a landmark LGBTQ rights bill that prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in numerous arenas, including employment, housing, education, public accommodations, credit and jury service.

“The LGBTQ community has waited long enough,” Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., who introduced the bill, said on the House floor. “The time has come to extend the blessings of liberty and equality to all Americans, regardless of who they are or who they love.”

The 224-206 vote was largely along party lines, with just three Republicans throwing their support behind the bill. A similar measure was introduced Tuesday in the Senate, where it faces an uphill battle, as a 60-vote threshold is required to bypass a filibuster.

The bill, however, now has the support of the White House. During his campaign, President Joe Biden said passage of the Equality Act would be a priority in his first 100 days in office.

“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 said in a statement. “Now, the ball is in the Senate’s court to pass the Equality Act and finally allow LGBTQ Americans the ability to live their lives free from discrimination.”

The act amends the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 to include protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation and identity. It’s been introduced every year since 2015 by Cicilline, one of nine LGBTQ representatives. It first passed the House in 2019 by a 236-173 vote, including eight Republicans, but failed to get a hearing in the GOP-dominated Senate.

Opponents say the bill would impinge on First Amendment rights, particularly free speech and religious liberty. The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, warned on its website that the Equality Act would “force employers and workers to conform to new sexual norms or else lose their businesses and jobs.”

The foundation also predicted the act’s protections for the trans community would force doctors to act “against their best medical judgment and provide transition-affirming therapies” and would fuel discrimination against cisgender women athletes.

“Females of all ages can expect to lose more and more opportunities … to biological males who have a natural advantage in sports and physical activities,” the group said. “The Equality Act would defeat the entire purpose of Title IX, which was meant to ensure that women would have the same opportunities as men including in sports, and would leave women vulnerable to sexual assault.”

Biden reiterated that support last week when the House bill was introduced, calling it a “a critical step toward ensuring that America lives up to our foundational values of equality and freedom for all.”

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“Full equality has been denied to LGBTQ+ Americans and their families for far too long,” he said in a statement. “The Equality Act provides long overdue federal civil rights protections on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity ... codifying the courage and resilience of the LGBTQ+ movement into enduring law.”

On his first day in office, Biden signed an executive order directing federal agencies to implement the Supreme Court’s Bostock ruling and to enforce any regulations banning sex discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, as well.

But last October, Biden told Philadelphia Gay News publisher Mark Segal that passing the Equality Act would ensure “no future president can ever again roll back civil rights and protections for LGBTQ+ individuals.”

“Too many states do not have laws that explicitly protect LGBTQ+ individuals from discrimination,” Biden said. “It’s wrong to deny people access to services or housing because of who they are or who they love.”

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