Biden couldn’t protect LGBTQ equality. Can he protect voting rights?

31 March 2021: This picture shows American President Joe Biden giving strength during press conference
President Joe Biden (D) Photo: Shutterstock

During a visit to Atlanta today, President Biden will make a speech endorsing a change to Senate filibuster rules in order to pass key voting rights legislation.

An official from the Biden Administration told the New York Times that Biden will not support getting rid of the filibuster altogether. Rather, he will express the need for a “carve-out” when constitutional rights like voting are at stake.

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Since Biden took office, Democrats have been pushing for filibuster reform, but their efforts have been blocked by two Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and out Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ). Both of their votes are needed to make filibuster reform happen, and both refuse to support eliminating the rule that effectively makes 60 votes required to pass any legislation through the Senate.

With the current Senate split 50-50, getting 60 votes on Democratic-led legislation is nearly impossible.

During his campaign, for example, Biden promised to pass the Equality Act–which would provide sweeping federal protections for LGBTQ people–within his first 100 days in office. That, of course, hasn’t happened due to Republican opposition in the Senate as well as Manchin and Sinema’s refusal to support filibuster reform. As an out bisexual woman and co-sponsor of the Equality Act, Sinema simultaneously supports LGBTQ protections from discrimination while ensuring that they never become law.

Now, it seems Biden is turning to voting rights as an avenue to finally advocate for a change to filibuster rules.

Biden’s speech in Georgia will focus on promoting two voting rights bills that will come to a vote this week. The Freedom to Vote Act would restrict partisan gerrymandering, secure the right to mail-in and absentee ballots, make election day a holiday, establish same-day and automatic voter registration, require states to provide 15 days of early voting, and establish other crucial protections.

The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act would reinstate the 1965 Voting Rights Act’s anti-discrimination protections that were struck down by the Supreme Court in 2013.

These pieces of legislation come up as Republican-led states continue to pass strict voting laws that make it extremely difficult for mostly marginalized communities to exercise their right to vote.

Unfortunately, all 50 Democratic Senators will need to vote yes on amending filibuster rules to make this happen, and so far, Manchin and Sinema have not been willing to support it.

“The next few days, when these bills come to a vote, will mark a turning point in this nation,” Biden will say in his speech. “Will we choose democracy over autocracy, light over shadow, justice over injustice? I know where I stand.”

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