Metro Weekly

House passes Equality Act, a landmark LGBTQ rights bill

Republicans largely oppose protecting LGBTQ people against discrimination nationwide.

Vote on the Equality Act – Photo: C-SPAN.

On Thursday afternoon, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Equality Act, a bill to outlaw discrimination against the LGBTQ community in housing, credit, jury service, public accommodations, and federal funding.

House lawmakers voted 224-206 to approve the bill, with only three Republicans — Brian Fitzpatrick (Pa.), John Katko (N.Y.), and Tom Reed (N.Y.) — voting in favor.

In a rare move, following passage of the bill, Republicans objected to the chair tabling a motion to reconsider. Typically, on most votes, the minority does not object to tabling the motion, but GOP lawmakers demanded a recorded vote on the motion to reconsider the bill. That action set up another vote, lasting 45 minutes, where Democrats voted to table the motion, while Republicans voted to reconsider the bill — a signal to their base of how much they are opposed to it.

The measure now heads to the U.S. Senate, where it faces a much larger hurdle to passage.

Because Senate Democrats failed to eliminate the filibuster for regular legislation, if Republicans insist on cloture, Democrats would have to keep their caucus together and convince 10 Republicans to vote to end debate on the bill before it could receive a vote. Most political observers say there are not enough Republicans who are supportive of the bill to meet that threshold, which would lead its defeat.

The bulk of opposition to the Equality Act has focused on two arguments: the first, that the Equality Act does not contain sufficient exemptions for individuals or business owners who oppose LGBTQ rights for religious reasons; and the second, that the bill will allow transgender female athletes to compete in women’s sports, thereby denying opportunities to cisgender females to win awards or earn other accolades.

Throughout a 90-minute debate between supporters and opponents of the bills, Republican lawmakers employed either one or both of the arguments, accusing Democrats of trying to force through controversial legislation. Those arguments are likely to be repeated by some Senate Republicans.

U.S. Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), the lead sponsor of the Equality Act, said during an afternoon press conference prior to the vote that proponents of the bill would make their case to senators, attempting to cajole them into supporting legal protections for the LGBTQ community.

“We’re going to make our case,” he said. “Our community is going to advocate with members of the Senate, and we’re going to work hard until we get the votes necessary to pass it. There’s no shortcut for it.

“You know, this is really an instance in which the Senate of the United States has to catch up to the American people,” Cicilline said, noting that polling shows upwards of 80% of Americans support passing protections for LGBTQ Americans, including majorities in each of the 50 states. He also called the popular support that the bill enjoys among rank-and-file Americans its strongest asset.

“The biggest challenge we face is a lot of people think that’s already the law,” he noted. “When you tell them that someone can get kicked out of their apartment, be denied service in a restaurant, or not be allowed to serve on a jury because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, they can’t believe that’s true. And that’s because it doesn’t comport with our basic understanding of fairness and equality in this country.”

This is a developing story.

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