By Christianna Silva
On Friday, March 17, the House of Representatives voted to pass the Equality Act, a sweeping policy that would amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and other pieces of federal legislation to include protections for LGBTQ people.
The bill, which passed 236-173, would make discrimination on the basis of sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity illegal, particularly as they pertain to education, employment, housing, credit, federally-funded programs, federal jury service, and public accommodations, according to the Human Rights Campaign, an LGBTQ-rights non-profit.
“The question before us is not whether the LGBTQ community faces outrageous and immoral discrimination, for the record shows that it clearly does,” Rep. Jerrold Nadler of New York, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, told The New York Times. “The question is whether we, as Congress, are willing to take action to do something about it. The answer goes straight to the heart of who we want to be as a country — and today, that answer must be a resounding ‘yes.’”
The act was introduced in May 2017 by Democratic Rep. David Cicilline of Rhode Island in the House and by Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon in the Senate, but didn’t make any waves at first, since a then-Republican-led House and Senate didn’t support the legislation.
Democrats reintroduced the bill in March after they regained control of the House during the 2018 midterm elections. The move didn’t come as a surprise: In fact, in a speech on October 16, 2017, at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, Democratic Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California (who is now the House Majority Leader) promised that passing the Equality Act would be a top priority once Democrats won control of the House of Representatives. In the end eight Republicans voted for the bill in the House; Republicans maintain the majority in the Senate.
Neither the Senate nor the Trump White House are unlikely to show support when the bill shows up before them. And there have been sweeping deconstructions to protections for LGBTQ people in the U.S. since Trump took office in 2017. Among other moves, the Justice Department sided with a cake shop owner who refused to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple citing religious freedom; the administration rescinded an Obama-era guidance for schools that was intended to protect transgender students in restrooms; the administration attempted to redefine gender under Title IX as purely a biological condition determined by a person’s genitalia at birth; they banned most transgender people from serving in the military; and rejected complaints from transgender students who are blocked from using the restroom that matches their gender identity.
“Despite significant advances, LGBT[Q] people across the country remain vulnerable to discrimination on a daily basis and too often have little recourse,” Rep. Cicilline told The Times. “It is past time for the Equality Act to be written into law.”