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Democrats reintroduce “long-overdue” Equality Act

The intersex-inclusive Progressive Pride flag
An intersex-inclusive Progress Pride flag Photo: Shutterstock

Amid a wave of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation across the country, Congressional Democrats have reintroduced the Equality Act.

The bill would update existing federal civil rights legislation to explicitly ban discrimination against LGBTQ+ people on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in a number of areas, including employment, education, access to credit, housing, and public accommodations.

At a Wednesday news conference, Rep. Mark Takano (D-CA) (one of the bill’s lead sponsors) noted the timing of the Equality Act’s reintroduction.

“We are filing this bill during Pride Month, a time of celebration but also an opportunity to reflect on a time when being out was nearly impossible,” Takano said. “We cannot allow extremists in our country to once again normalize homophobia and attacks on LGBTQ people. We can’t turn away from the discrimination that still exists for so many LGBTQ people today.”

As The Hill notes, fewer than half of all U.S. states currently have laws on the books prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in areas like housing and public accommodations, while only 23 states have outlawed employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. In recent years, Republican lawmakers in states across the country have been pushing legislation like Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law aimed at restricting the discussion of LGBTQ+ topics in schools and limiting the rights of LGBTQ+ students and teachers.

“In order for our nation to fulfill the promise of its founding principles, we must guarantee equality for all under the law by passing the Equality Act,” Rep. Chris Pappas (D-NH), co-chair of the Congressional Equality Caucus and one of the bill’s sponsors, said in a statement. “Every American deserves the same rights and responsibilities, and no one should be discriminated against just because of who they are or whom they love. Passing the Equality Act will move our country forward, and it’s time to ensure the LGBTQ+ community is protected by our nation’s civil rights statutes.”

“As the first openly gay person of color to serve in Congress, I am acutely aware of the impacts lawful discrimination has on our marginalized communities in the United States, and the LGBTQI+ community have been subject to discrimination, violence, and the denial of their full personhood under the law for far too long,” Takano said in a statement. “I’m proud to reintroduce the Equality Act as a long-overdue guarantee to all members of our community that we, too, benefit from the civil rights protections and the full promise of American democracy.”

First put forth by then-Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI) in 2015, the Equality Act has been repeatedly re-introduced by Democrats over the years. The House passed the bill with bipartisan support in 2019 and 2021, but both times it died in the Senate, failing to receive enough support from Republicans to overcome the filibuster.

This year, however, Republicans control the House, while Democrats have a slim majority in the upper chamber, where Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) has introduced a companion bill.

Last November, 12 Republicans joined Senate Democrats to pass the Respect for Marriage Act in a 61–36 vote, guaranteeing the right to marriage equality at the federal level. That victory may be a sign that the Equality Act has a chance of garnering the bipartisan support it needs to pass both in both chambers.

“Just a decade ago, passing marriage equality and the Respect for Marriage Act with a dozen Republican senators on our side would have been unthinkable,” Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), who co-sponsored the Senate bill with Merkley, said on Wednesday. “We defied political gravity.”

LGBTQ+ advocacy organizations cheered the announcement on Wednesday.

National Center for Lesbian Rights Executive Director Imani Rupert-Gordon called the reintroduction of the Equality Act “a historic step towards ensuring that the LGBTQ community and our families will finally be shielded from the discrimination that so many of us have faced on a daily basis.”

“LGBTQ+ young people in schools across the U.S. are facing attacks from right-wing extremists who are intent on silencing, excluding, and erasing them,” GLSEN Executive Director Melanie Willingham-Jaggers said in a statement applauding Baldwin and Takano for reintroducing the bill. “The Equality Act will protect LGBTQ+ students, families, and educators from discrimination in the classroom and across multiple dimensions of life, such as healthcare and housing.”

Kierra Johnson, Executive Director of the National LGBTQ Task Force Action Fund, called on members of Congress to “use every tool available” to pass the Equality Act and on the Biden Administration to rally support for the bill. “This is an opportunity for Congress to work together to bring our country closer together. We’ve been waiting too long. The time is now to make the Equality Act a reality and take the country one step closer to living its promise of ‘liberty and justice for all,’” Johnson said in a statement.

In his February State of the Union address, President Joe Biden also called on Congress to pass the Equality Act. “No one should face discrimination because of who they are or who they love,” the president tweeted on Wednesday. “I urge Congress to send this bill to my desk.”

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