Yesterday, the White House announced its official endorsement of the Equality Act, which would amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as well as other federal laws, which up until now have not protected LGBT Americans from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. If passed, the Equality Act would extend clear federal nondiscrimination protections in employment, housing, public accommodations, education, public funding, credit access and jury service to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people. The bill would also clarify that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act cannot be used to justify discrimination against LGBT people. It also states that sex-segregated facilities must admit individuals in accordance with their gender identity.
“We are thrilled to hear that the President has formally endorsed the Equality Act. Americans firmly believe that discrimination is wrong. The passage of this legislation would propel the work for full freedom, justice and equality forward. And while as a nation, we’ve made significant gains to close the gap on discrimination against LGBTQ people, we still have our work cut out for us. It is mind boggling that in many states like Mississippi, a lesbian couple in a loving relationship can get married but run the risk of being fired or denied the right to adopt because of senseless discrimination," said National LGBTQ Task Force Action Fund Executive Director Rea Carey. "It is now up to Congress to act on this comprehensive LGBTQ civil rights legislation and ensure that LGBTQ people are treated fairly under the law across the country."
The lead sponsors of the bill are Democrats Jeff Merkley of Oregon, Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin and Cory Booker of New Jersey in the Senate, and Democrat David Cicilline of Rhode Island in the House. Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton, Martin O'Malley and Bernie Sanders have also endorsed the bill. In contrast (and not surprisingly), the Republican presidential hopefuls all stand in staunch opposition to the Equality Act and progress for LGBT Americans in general. Unfortunately, both the Senate and House are controlled by Republicans, and they seem unlikely to pass this sweeping and very necessary legislation. However, the President’s backing is certainly an encouraging step in the right direction.
“The unfortunate reality is that, while LGBT Americans can legally get married, millions remain at risk of being fired or denied services for who they are or who they love because the majority of states still lack explicit, comprehensive non-discrimination protections,” said Human Rights Campaign president Chad Griffin in a statement yesterday. “By endorsing the Equality Act, the White House sent a strong message that it’s time to put the politics of discrimination behind us once and for all. Now it’s time for Congress to act. Everyone should be able to live free from fear of discrimination and have a fair chance to earn a living and provide for their families, including people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender.”