US: Equality Act to protect LGBT+ citizens advances in Congress

Democratic leaders and supporters announce the introduction of the Equality Act, in Washington, March 13, 2019 – Image:  REUTERS/Leah Millis

A bill protecting US citizens from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity was passed by the House of Representatives with bipartisan support on Friday last (17 May).

The Equality Act, which would amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that banned discrimination based on race, religion, sex, and national origin, will now be considered by the Senate.

Currently, more than half of LGBT+ Americans live in states without protection from discrimination at work, school and elsewhere.

“For the first time in American history, members of Congress have affirmed that LGBTQ people need express and enduring protections in their daily lives”, Masen Davis of Freedom for All Americans, an LGBT+ rights group, said in a statement.

With over 240 co-sponsors and the support of around 200 US companies, including Airbnb and Google, the Equality Act would provide LGBT+ citizens with protection against discrimination when seeking housing, credit, or access to education.

The bill would also offer protection from discrimination in employment, in public spaces like stores, and when being considered for jury duty.

“It puts the law on the side of those who continue to face individual discrimination based not on their character but on who they are”, said Representative Sean Patrick Maloney, a Democrat, in arguments before the vote.

Earlier this week, a representative for President Donald Trump’s administration said in a statement the president opposed the bill, noting that it was full of “poison pills that threaten to undermine parental and conscience rights”.

Republican representatives who opposed the bill argued that it would infringe on religious business owners’ rights to work in accordance with their faith.

“It would allow government to force its rigid and unyielding fist inside the church”, argued Republican Representative Ross Spano.

Republicans also argued the bill would harm girls by allowing transgender athletes to compete according to their gender identity, echoing arguments made by athletes like tennis champion, Martina Navratilova, earlier this year.

“A vote for this bill is a vote against women”, said Representative Vicky Hartzler, a Republican.

Democrat Katie Hill dismissed these statements.

“No trans person is trying to game the system to participate in sports”, she said.

The legislation passed through the House in a 236-173 vote, but it will face major opposition in the Republican-controlled Senate.

A poll released in March by the nonpartisan, nonprofit, Public Research Institute, found 70 percent of Americans supported laws that protect LGBT+ people from discrimination.

-Kate Ryan, Thomson Reuters Foundation

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