Civil rights advocates on Thursday hailed the U.S. House of Representatives’ passage of the Equality Act, a historic bill banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in education, employment, housing, public accommodations, and other areas.
“The time has come to extend the blessings of liberty and equality to all Americans, regardless of who they are or who they love.”
—Rep. David Cicilline
The House voted 224-206, mostly along party lines, in favor of the landmark bill, which amends the 1964 Civil Rights Act to grant legal protection to the estimated 11 million LGBTQ people (pdf) in the United States. The bill represents the latest remarkable progress for a category of Americans who, at the beginning of the century, enjoyed few explicit rights.
Until last June’s Bostock v. Clayton County U.S. Supreme Court decision, for example, it was still legal in 29 states for an employer to fire a worker simply for being LGBTQ.
Rep. David Cicilline, (D-R.I.), who introduced the bill, declared on the House floor that “the LGBTQ community has waited long enough.”
“The time has come to extend the blessings of liberty and equality to all Americans, regardless of who they are or who they love,” said Cicilline.
Rep. Mondaire Jones (D-N.Y.)—one of the first two out gay Black members of Congress—applauded the bill’s passage, saying it “has been a long time coming.”
Jones said the legislation “represents progress that, for me, was unbelievable when I was growing up. To grow up poor, Black, and gay is to not see yourself anywhere. It is also to feel completely unseen as so many people around invalidate your very existence.”
“To grow up poor, Black and gay is to not see yourself anywhere. It is also to feel completely unseen as so many people around invalidate your very existence.” pic.twitter.com/xWzF9jrsmY
— Human Rights Campaign (@HRC) February 25, 2021
That invalidation—or an attempt at it—was on display during Thursday’s confirmation hearing for assistant health and human services secretary nominee Rachel Levine, who faced transphobic attacks from Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.). Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), who earlier this week also called the Equality Act “evil,” was also condemned for anti-trans words and actions over the past two days.
Without mentioning Greene by name, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said that “a sad event here” in Congress demonstrated that “we need to have respect” for LGBTQ people codified in law.
While eight Republican lawmakers voted for a similar version of the legislature in 2019, only three GOP House members—Reps. Brian Fitzpatrick (Pa.), John Katko (N.Y.), and Tom Reed (N.Y.)—did so this time. Many Republicans who voted against the bill claimed it would infringe upon religious freedom.
Civil rights advocates rejoiced at the Equality Act’s passage.
“Today’s vote is a major milestone for equality bringing us closer to ensuring that every person is treated equally under the law,” Human Rights Campaign president Alphonso David said in a statement. “Now, the ball is in the Senate’s court to pass the Equality Act and finally allow LGBTQ Americans the ability to live their lives free from discrimination.”
The Equality Act has passed the House. It’s time for the Senate to act.
This bill is about:
— ACLU (@ACLU) February 25, 2021
However, the bill will almost certainly struggle to muster the 60 votes needed to pass the Senate with a filibuster-proof majority.