"The Equality Act": Democrats push bill banning LGBT discrimination

Democrats look to expand the 1964 Civil Rights Act to include sexual orientation and gender identity

Published July 23, 2015 3:24PM (EDT)

                                    (Flickr Creative Commons)
(Flickr Creative Commons)

Where EDNA failed, the Equality Act will succeed. At least that is the hope of Congressional Democrats hoping to seize the landmark ruling in favor of same-sex marriage at the Supreme Court earlier this summer to expand LGBTQ rights to the workplace, the classroom and in public spaces.

In 28 states, gay and lesbian Americans have no protection from workplace discrimination while transgender Americans are only protected in 19 states.

Democrats in Congress are looking to change that statistic once again. Congressional democrats will introduce the Equality Act in both the House and Senate today, a bill that would amend the 1964 Civil Rights Act to include sexual orientation and gender identity to the existing list of race, color, religion, sex, and national origin, protected against discrimination.  The bill would also clarify that the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act cannot be used as a defense for anti-LGBTQ discrimination. The Equality Act would also expand the types of public accommodations covered under the Civil Rights Act to include banks, grocers, retail outlets, bars and taxi cabs.

In 2013, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act died in the Republican-led House after passing the Senate in a historic vote. This time, the same senator who ushered EDNA through the upper chamber is a co-sponsor of the Equality Act. Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley co-sponsored the bill will the first openly gay Senator Tammy Baldwin and New Jersey's first African-American Senator Cory Booker in the Senate and Rep. David Cicilline, who is openly gay, in the House.

“In most states, a same-sex couple can get married on Saturday, post pictures on Facebook on Sunday, and then risk being fired from their job or kicked out of their apartment on Monday,” Cicilline wrote in a  letter seeking Congressional support. “A majority of states in our country do not have laws that protect LGBT individuals against discrimination ... We need a uniform federal standard that protects all LGBT Americans from discrimination."

Corporations like Apple, Dow Chemical Company, and Levi Strauss & Co. have come out in support of the bill, calling it "simply good business." And the bill already has several dozen Democratic Senate co-sponsors and nearly 100 Democratic House co-sponsors.  However, no congressional Republican has come out in support of the legislation, yet.

In contrast, Congressional Republicans are voting on their own legislation this week aimed at making it easier for private businesses to discriminate against LGBTQ Americans. The First Amendment Defense Act, sponsored by Republican Idaho Rep. Raul Labrador, was introduced days before the Supreme Court ruled that bans against same-sex marriage are unconstitutional and seeks to bar the federal government from revoking public benefits like tax-exempt status to private entities or individuals who religious convictions are against same-sex marriage.

"Laws that protect the free exercise of religious beliefs and moral convictions about marriage will encourage private citizens and institutions to demonstrate tolerance for those beliefs and convictions and therefore contribute to a more respectful, diverse, and peaceful society," the bill reads.

Earlier this week, Republican Senator and presidential candidate Ted Cruz released an interview with religious business owners who claimed they've been unfairly targeted after refusing services to a gay couple. The couple claimed they "were forced to close their faith-based wedding business after Iowa passed a law legalizing same-sex marriage," during the interview with Cruz entitled "In Defense of Religious Liberty."

69 percent of Americans — including 51 percent of Republicans — want a federal law that prohibits discriminating against someone based on sexual orientation or gender identity, according to a national poll released in April.

By Sophia Tesfaye

Sophia Tesfaye is Salon's senior editor for news and politics, and resides in Washington, D.C. You can find her on Twitter at @SophiaTesfaye.

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Congress Democrats Lgbtq Lgbtq Rights