In the United States, 29 states are still yet to outlaw LGBTQI+ discrimination in their jurisdictions. The Equality Act has been drawn up to be added to the 1964 Civil Rights Act, signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964.
The provisions that are to be added to the Civil Rights Act are as follows; To prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex, gender identity, and sexual orientation, and for other purposes. The Equality Act’s purpose is to amend the 1964 Bill and include protections for LGBTQI+ Americans. There are many states that already have anti-discrimination laws but more than half of them don’t, making their LGBTQI+ citizens vulnerable.
You would think that the United States would already have these sorts of protections in place at a Federal level, but unfortunately they don’t. The US House of Representatives had introduced the Bill in May of 2019 and passed with a bipartisan vote and was moved to the Senate. The US Senate Majority was held by Republicans at the time and they refused to take the Bill on for debate and amendments. President Trump also signalled that he would veto the Bill when it made its way to the Oval Office for signing.
What’s so different now, why is the bill being proposed now? President Joe Biden and Vice-President Kamala Harris are known to be firm believers and advocates for LGBTQI+ rights. In fact, it was actually Joe Biden, when he was Barack Obama’s Vice President who signalled that he supported same-sex marriage before Barack Obama did.
Joe Biden said that his views have evolved, simply saying “who do you love and will you be loyal to the person you love.” He said that he was ‘absolutely’ comfortable with same-sex marriage. Even before this development, the Obama-Biden Administration had acted progressively on LGBTQI+ protections in hospitals and repealing the damaging ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ US military policy.
Harris is also a well-known ally to the LGBTQI+ community. She said she would prevent ‘Prop 8’, which would bar same-sex couples marriages in the state of California when she was running for Attorney General of CA in 2010. Harris was asked to marry the lesbian couple who were the plaintiffs of the case.
When another couple showed up to Los Angeles to get married, they were told the clerk could not do the marriage as they were not clear on whether it was legal. Harris (as Attorney General) was on the phone momentarily and said ‘You must start the marriages immediately.’
The Democrats now have control of both houses of Congress, meaning that they will be able to push the bill through. The filibuster requiring 60 votes may cause disruption and delay the proceedings. Even though Chuck Schumer (D-NY) is Senate Majority Leader, people are still questioning whether the Bill will get through the Senate floor. President Biden has said he would sign the Act if it was passed by the Senate. Biden has said that passing the Equality Act would be one of the major priorities in his first 100 days in office and has urged Congress to pass the Bill swiftly.
Only three House Republicans voted with Democrats to pass the Bill onto the Senate. Many Republicans fear that the Bill will impose restraints on religious freedom and objections. Some republicans have previously supported preventing employment discrimination for LGBTQI+ individuals, but now that the act could overwrite previous religious freedom laws, many Republicans fear the rescinding of religious freedom rights. Mitt Romney (R-UT) said that he would support the law if it brought with it a provision based on religious freedom. The Democrats are likely to draw support if they accommodate these provisions that moderate Republicans require be included in the Bill in order to vote for it.
The act now has a different context than when it was introduced in the 116th Congress. In 2020, the Supreme Court ruled in the Bostock v Clayton County case, that discrimination on the basis of sex would extend to gay, lesbian and transgender people.
Why did they come to this conclusion? If the man in a same-sex marriage was a woman, he would not have been terminated from his place of employment. That’s the logic of the Supreme Court ruling. The Equality Act essentially has the task of formally writing the protections for sexual orientation and gender identity into law, and will serve purposes for protection in federally funded programs and public accommodations – retail stores and public stores/places.
Supporters of the Bill say that it simply adds extensions to the 1964 Act to protect those who also require the same protections as those who are presently included in the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The 1964 Act simply does not legally protect LGBTQI+ individuals in the eyes of the law without having to go through the shortcut of ‘sex’ terminology.
The Equality Act will effectively end the endemic attitude of those who believe they have a licence to discriminate based on religious liberty and freedom. Laws are consistently being passed by states that are rolling back on LGBTQI+ protections. The only way to stop this is for the 117th Congress to pass the Equality Act.