LGBTQ advocates have hailed President Biden for committing to advancing equality in his recent State of the Union address — a welcome gesture at a time when LGBTQ rights have come under attack from social conservatives.
Speaking to the nation on Tuesday evening, Biden said, “Here in the people’s House, it’s our duty to protect all the people’s rights and freedoms…Make no mistake: if Congress passes a national abortion ban, I will veto it. Let’s also pass the bipartisan Equality Act to ensure LGBTQ Americans, especially transgender young people, can live with safety and dignity.”
The Equality Act, a sweeping piece of legislation that would insert protections for LGBTQ individuals into the Civil Rights Act, previously passed the U.S. House of Representatives in two separate sessions under Democratic control, but failed to gain traction in the U.S. Senate, largely due to Republican concerns about protections for transgender individuals and assertions that such protections would compromise women’s right to single-sex spaces.
With Republicans now in control of the House, the likelihood of even receiving a hearing on the bill, let alone a vote, is slim to none.
Biden also touted his accomplishments, including the passage of “over 300 bipartisan laws” — primarily passed by Democrats, with a few Republican defectors — since becoming president.
One of the bills he specifically mentioned was the Respect for Marriage Act, a landmark piece of legislation that — if the Supreme Court’s 2015 decision legalizing marriage equality is ever reversed — would require the federal government and states to recognize same-sex marriages performed in states where there is no statutory or constitutional ban on such nuptials.
As a nod to the successful passage of the Respect for Marriage Act, Gina and Heidi Nortonsmith, a lesbian couple who were two of the plaintiffs who successfully sued the Commonwealth of Massachusetts for the right to marry two decades ago, were in attendance as guests of First Lady Jill Biden. The couple was introduced by President Biden during the Respect for Marriage Act’s bill signing ceremony at the White House last December.
“President Biden included LGBTQ people in his vision for a more equal, more free and more compassionate country. In re-upping his call for Congress to pass the Equality Act and protect transgender youth, the President is leading by example to expand freedom so no one is left behind,” Sarah Kate Ellis, the president and CEO of the LGBTQ media advocacy organization GLAAD, said in a statement.
“The call is urgent. LGBTQ Americans’ safety and dignity are under attack in state legislatures across the country, and our protections are at risk from the hostile majority on the U.S. Supreme Court,” added Ellis. “Every lawmaker and every voter must speak up for LGBTQ people, and secure protections against discrimination so we all have a greater chance to belong, be safe and to succeed.”
The National LGBTQ Task Force thanked Biden for singling out LGBTQ issues, as well as other economic and social justice issues that affect members of the LGBTQ community.
“It was vital — and appreciated — that President Biden mentioned the urgent need to pass the Equality Act and actions taken to secure marriage equality,” Task Force Executive Director Kierra Johnson said in a statement. “What many people may not realize is that LGBTQ people are at the center of all the issues President Biden spoke about throughout his address. Social security. Fair wages. Medicaid expansion. Access to education. Reproductive justice. Police reform. These are all LGBTQ issues.
“LGBTQ people are often disproportionately impacted because of the discrimination our community faces every single day,” Johnson added. “LGBTQ people are not fully able to participate or benefit from all that our country has to offer. For too many queer people, the American dream is out of reach. Instead, the nightmare of physical violence, state sanctioned harassment and bullying in the name of religion is the reality.”
Johnson condemned attacks on LGBTQ people by elected lawmakers in various states, slammed congressional representatives for refusing to consider bills that would benefit the larger society, including LGBTQ people, and denounced a criminal justice system focused on penalizing poor people and a government that has failed to rein in the abuses of large corporations.
“[Biden] told the stories of those too often overlooked: teachers, seniors, black and brown people, transgender youth, immigrants and lower income and middle-class folks. Biden’s refrain was that we need to come together to protect and defend our democracy. While I agree, I would say that we also need to reimagine and continue to build our democracy so that fewer of us are left behind,” Johnson added. “Expanding the civil rights of LGBTQ+ people must be central to that fight.”
U.S. Reps. Mark Takano (D-Calif.) and David Cicilline (D-R.I.), the co-chairs of Equality PAC, the political arm of the Congressional LGBTQ Equality Caucus, praised the president for highlighting the need for the Equality Act.
“At a time where LGBTQ Americans, especially those who are trans, are increasingly under attack by right-wing extremists, these protections have never been more dire,” the co-chairs said in a statement. “We remain committed to working with President Biden and members of Congress to pass the Equality Act and enshrine additional LGBTQ rights into law.”
The Human Rights Campaign noted that several of the president’s achievements he touted had been outlined by the organization in a brief released in November 2020 that was touted as a “roadmap toward equality” for the then-president-elect, and touted their positive working relationship with the Biden administration.
“While the rights of queer people — especially trans kids — have been under assault by extremist forces in state legislatures, the federal government has pursued a course that pushes back against discrimination and makes it easier for LGBTQ+ people to participate fully in society,” HRC President Kelley Robinson said in a statement.
“From here, the work gets harder. We still must pass the Equality Act so that LGBTQ+ people nationwide have full nondiscrimination protections. We need national protections for abortion rights and voting rights. We need a comprehensive federal effort to do everything possible to defend LGBTQ+ people across the nation whose rights are being stripped away by state lawmakers,” added Robinson. “We need the administration to continue to put forth policies to fight against discrimination. We need to hear from the highest office in the land that we are greater than hate. We look forward to continuing to work with the Biden-Harris administration to make these goals into reality.”
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