Although same-sex couples can now marry across the United States, LGBT people are still vulnerable to discrimination without federal anti-discrimination protection. On July 23, however, members of the United States Congress introduced legislation to amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by banning discrimination against LGBT people.
Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity in areas including housing, employment, public education, federal funding, credit, jurors, and public accommodations is not currently prohibited in all states. The Equality Act would change this by adding “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” protections to those already including race, religion, sex, and national origin.
The Equality Act also specifies protection for LGBT people against religiously fueled discrimination by stating that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act cannot be used to justify discrimination against LGBT people in any form.
Although past legislation offering LGBT protections (namely the ENDA) have failed, Vice President Joe Biden summed up in his Freedom to Marry event speech early this month why the Equality Act may fare better: “Although the freedom to marry, and for that marriage to be recognized in all 50 states is the law of the land, there are still 32 states where marriage can be recognized in the morning and you can be fired in the afternoon. This door is going to be a hell of a lot easier to push open as long as we expose to average Americans the injustice that continues to exist.”
The bill is coming at an appropriate time, and is certainly a comprehensive piece of legislation. Some may say it is too sweeping and too broad. Heather Cronk of GetEQUAL has commented before on her organization’s wariness to support legislation with “so many potential downfalls.” Upon the introduction of the bill, GetEQUAL released a statement emphasizing its stance that despite any enthusiasm for “full federal LGBT equality”, it will “continue to raise questions about the extent to which this bill highlights and centers the needs of LGBTQ people living at the margins.”
The overall response to the Equality Act has been largely positive, however. The bill has received support from many major companies including Google, Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, GE, Twitter, American Airlines, Nike, and HP.
Wade Henderson, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, expressed full support for the historic bill and indignation at the fact that general protections, in comparison to the “piecemeal solutions” that have been offered, have not already been established. “The LGBT community has gotten only piecemeal solutions to their second-class citizenship— like marriage equality, coverage under hate crimes legislation, and open participation in military service – and we stand united in agreement that the time for comprehensive federal LGBT civil rights protections is now. The Equality Act presents an opportunity to codify these protections into law nationwide and we look forward to working toward passage of this bill or similar legislation that helps to realize the promise of non-discrimination and dignity for LGBT Americans.”