Why You Should Care About The Equality Act in 2021
Next week the US House of Representatives will vote on The Equality Act (H.R.5), a sweeping amendment to the existing civil rights laws that will end legal discrimination against LGBTQ+ Americans.
What is The Equality Act?
According to the Human Rights Campaign, The Equality Act “would provide consistent and explicit non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people across key areas of life, including employment, housing, credit, education, public spaces and services, federally funded programs, and jury service.”
In May 2019, it passed in the House with a 236–173 vote, with a total of 8 Republican votes in support of The Equality Act. However, then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, (R-Ky.), never took it up in the Senate. Now that Democrats hold a majority in both the House and Senate with Vice President Kamala Harris has the tie-breaking 50–50 vote in the Senate, The Equality Act finally has a chance to become law. But this could be made difficult in the event of an opposition filibuster.
The bill was reintroduced by Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, (D-Md.) announced in a letter to congressional colleagues that the House would vote on the Equality Act in late February.
Why Do LGBTQ+ Americans Need The Equality Act?
While same-sex marriage is legal and the number of pro-equality voters in the US is at an all-time high, we still need The Equality Act.
Currently, US civil rights laws protect people on the basis of race, color, national origin, and in most cases sex, disability, and religion. These laws typically exist at the state and municipal level because at this point in time federal law does not explicitly provide non-discrimination protections to LGBTQ+ people on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
The Equality Act is needed to fill in the gaps and create federal policies to ensure all Americans are protected, regardless of state or local laws. It would amend existing civil rights laws (most notably the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Fair Housing Act, the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, and the Jury Selection and Services Act) to provide explicit protections to LGBTQ+ people. This will be done by including sexual orientation and gender identity as protected characteristics.
The Equality Act has support on both sides of the aisle in Congress and widespread support from big names like Karamo Brown, Nancy Pelosi, Adam Rippon, and Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Justin Mikita. This legislation will help to protect LGBTQ+ people to allow federal law to catch up to widespread cultural support in favor of LGBTQ+ rights.
President Biden’s Role
If The Equality Act is passed within the next few months it will fulfill President Joe Biden’s campaign promise to do so during the 100 days in office. The Biden campaign has the following statement on its website:
“The Equality Act is the best vehicle for ensuring equal rights under the law for LGBTQ+ Americans, and will guarantee that LGBTQ+ individuals are protected under existing civil rights laws. Biden will make enactment of the Equality Act during his first 100 days as President a top legislative priority. Biden will also direct his Cabinet to ensure immediate and full enforcement of the Equality Act across all federal departments and agencies.”
Biden was part of the Obama administration which was in office when same-sex marriage was legalized throughout the US as a result of the Obergefell v. Hodges case heard by the Supreme Court. This ruling was celebrated by Biden and his current administration as president is one of the most LGBTQ+-friendly in history.
While working at The Human Rights Campaign, I had the incredible opportunity to hear Dr. Jill Biden speak during an all-staff meeting about the Bidens’ dedication to LGBTQ+ causes. Listening to Dr. Biden speak about her and Joe’s commitment to make the US a better country for LGBTQ+ people was inspiring and it was made even better by the Biden dogs — Champ and Major — sitting next to her.
How to Support The Equality Act
To learn more and support The Equality Act, you can visit a page created by the Human Rights Campaign which is linked here.