The House of Representatives is expected to vote on the Equality Act – the federal bill that would add sexual orientation and gender identity to federal civil rights legislation – as next week.
“Other legislation coming to the floor next week are two bills that passed through the House last Congress: a wilderness package and the Equality Act, which will end legal discrimination against LGBTQ Americans,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) wrote in a memo yesterday.
Out Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI) is expected to introduce the bill in the House, as he has done in past years.
Last year, the Supreme Court ruled in its historic Bostock v. Clayton Co. decision that Title VII’s ban on job discrimination “based on sex” also prohibits anti-LGBTQ discrimination because it’s impossible to discriminate against LGBTQ people without taking one’s sex into account.
In January, President Joe Biden issued an executive order directing federal agencies to apply that reasoning to other federal civil rights legislation that bans discrimination based on sex.
The Equality Act would extend those protections and write them in statutory law so that the next Republican president can’t overturn them without getting Congress to pass a new law, which would be more difficult than simply issuing an executive order overturning Biden’s executive order.
Moreover, the law adds protections against discrimination based on sex for public accommodations and federal programs to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, according to the Washington Blade. It also expands the definition of public accommodations to include retail stores, banks, transportation services, and health care services.
The bill would prevent the Religious Freedom Restoration Act from allowing people and businesses from claiming a religious exemption to the anti-discrimination law as well.
Signing the Equality Act into law was a key promise made by the Biden/Harris campaign to LGBTQ voters, and the White House has said that Biden intends to keep that promise.
The Equality Act has been introduced in every session of Congress since 2015. In 2019, the House of Representatives passed the bill for the first time, but the Republican-controlled Senate did not bring it up for a vote. Former President Donald Trump opposed the bill, saying that it would “threaten to undermine parental and conscience rights.”
With Democrats controlling the House, Senate, and the White House at the same time, they finally have a chance to pass the law.
But the filibuster in the Senate may prove to be an obstacle to passing the bill, though. The Senate’s rules require 60 votes to end debate and vote on a bill itself, and Democrats only control 50 seats in the Senate. Only 50 Democratic senators would be needed to end the filibuster entirely and allow the Senate to vote on the Equality Act, but Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) have publicly stated that they oppose ending the archaic roadblock.