Everything you need to know about the House passing the Equality Act

The House voted on Thursday to pass the Equality Act, a bill that aims to ban discrimination on the basis of sex or gender identity in places such as education, employment, housing, public services, and jury service.

The legislation aims to expand LGBTQ rights by amending the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 to include protections against discrimination on the basis of sex or identity. It would also federally codify into law the 2020 June Supreme Court ruling that said employers who fire workers for being gay or transgender are violating civil rights law. The act was first passed by the House in 2019 by a vote of 236 to 173 but never received a hearing in the republican controlled senate. On the campaign trail President Biden said that the passage of the bill would be one of top priorities in his first 100 days in office. The legislation will now be sent to the senate where it faces an uphill battle, where the bill requires 60 votes in order to break the filibuster. In an equally divided senate, it remains unknown if 10 republicans will vote for its passage. 

The bill’s passage was greeted with enthusiasm on the Democratic side of the House, Rep David Cicilline of Rhode Island who is himself gay and a cosponsor of the bill said that, “Every American deserves to be treated with respect and dignity. With today’s vote, the House has again affirmed that LGBTQ people should enjoy the same rights and responsibilities as all other Americans.” Human Rights Campaign President Alphonso David stated that, “Today’s vote is a major milestone for equality bringing us closer to ensuring that every person is treated equally under the law.” He went on to mention that the “ball is in the Senates court to pass the Equality Act and finally allow LGBTQ Americans the ability to live their lives free from discrimination.” In a statement last week, the President confirmed his support saying that “The Equality Act provides long overdue federal civil rights protections on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity…. and codifying the courage and resilience of the LGBTQ+ movement into enduring law.”

On the other hand, the bill has been meant with stinging rebuke from both republicans and women’s rights groups. One of the main criticisms of the bill is that it would destroy women’s sports because it means that biological men who identify themselves as female can compete against biological women giving them an unfair advantage. Another complaint is that the bill would end federal legal recognition of complementary male and female sex in favour of recognising gender identity, the problem with this of course is that “the concept of ‘gender identity’ is a steamroller obliterating the significance of ‘male’ and ‘female’ in our language, relationships, laws and spaces” says Mary Rice Hasson of the Ethics and Public Policy Centre. A feminist group called the Women’s Liberation Front said of the bill “it’s being sold on promising good things for women, and on ending unfair treatment of lesbian, gay and bisexual people …. but it’s poisoned with the destruction of the laws ability to allow any accommodations for women on the basis of sex.”

Republicans believe that the act will attack religious freedoms because the legislation isn’t subject to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, which means for example that faith based adoption agencies that restrict adoptions to homes with a father and mother could be faced with a lawsuit that would have the cleft of the federal law behind it. In addition, the act also states that, “an individual shall not be denied access to a shared facility including a restroom, a locker room, and a dressing room, that is in accordance with the individuals identity.” This would mean that the privacy women and girls in particular have traditionally had would be eliminated. That section of the act also applies to schools, meaning that a boy who identified as a girl would be allowed to use their changing rooms and if parents disagree with this then they would be viewed as discriminating against children who identify as another gender. 




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