Leading US Republican Senator, Ted Cruz, on Wednesday said sweeping legislation that would bar discrimination against LGBT+ people, was “none of the government’s business”, underscoring the unlikelihood that the bill will pass into law.
Lawmakers clashed over the bill, known as the Equality Act, which would expand the 1964 Civil Rights Act to protect LGBT+ individuals from prejudice, in a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, with Democrats and Republicans divided.
The debate comes as trans rights sharply divide US politics, with President Joe Biden pushing for greater LGBT+ inclusion, in stark contrast to his predecessor, Donald Trump, who backed conservatives seeking to protect religious freedoms.
Since the start of the year, 27 states have introduced or passed laws to bar trans women and girls from competing in women’s sports, according to a legislative tracker run by Freedom For All Americans, an LGBT+ advocacy group.
“This bill puts an ultimatum to individuals, religious nonprofits, food banks, schools, charities, adoption agencies, and others; change your faith-based practices or face government punishment,” said Senator Josh Hawley, a Missouri Republican.
Senator Cory Booker, a Democrat from New Jersey, said religion was being used as a shield to excuse discrimination.
“We have seen this phenomenon of religion being used to justify slavery, segregation, bans on interracial marriage,” he said.
“I do not understand that in this nation that believes … all people are created equal, that we still have a nation that tolerates, in the majority of our states, overt discrimination.”
Of the 50 US states, 22 and the District of Columbia prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
An estimated 83% of Americans favour laws that would protect LGBT+ people against discrimination, in jobs, public accommodation and housing, including 68% of Republicans, according to a poll by the Public Religion Research Institute.
For the Equality Act to become law, it must win 60 votes in the US Senate, where there is a 50-50 split between Democrats and Republicans. Biden has said he would sign the bill into law.
“We have great progress, miles of progress, but we still have miles to go, as this hearing has pointed out,” said Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota.
-Matthew Lavietes – Thomson Reuters Foundation