With little Republican support, House Democrats passed a bill Thursday that would lock in long-sought legal safeguards for LGBTQ+ people — but the historic measure faces stiff opposition in the Senate.
The “Equality Act,” which tweaks existing civil rights law to spell out that sexual orientation and gender identification are protected characteristics that cannot form the basis for discrimination, passed the House in a 224-206 vote, with just three Republicans joining the chamber’s 221 Democrats in supporting the measure.
Supports of the bill say the protections will ensure that LGBTQ+ people can’t face discrimination based on their orientation or identity in employment, housing, loan applications, education and various other areas.
“In the absence of federal civil rights protection, there are members of the LGBTQ+ community who are fair game in the eyes of the law to be targeted, based on sexual orientation,” New York Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, a member of Democratic leadership, said during a debate before the vote. “That is not America.”
But Republicans claim the bill will erode religious liberties.
For example, GOP lawmakers claim it could force faith-based adoption agencies to close down for requiring that a child be placed with a married mother and father, or pressure religious private schools to hire staff whose sexual orientation violates their faith.
“The Equality Act is not about stopping discrimination. It’s about causing discrimination against women and religious freedoms,” said Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, the controversial Georgia Republican who was stripped of all her committee assignments last month over her history of promoting political violence and far-right conspiracy theories.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., has promised to put the Equality Act up for a vote, but it would need the support of at least 10 Republicans to pass the upper chamber.
Republicans in the Senate appear to largely agree with the gist of Greene’s argument, muddying the bill’s prospects.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., whose panel drafted the Equality Act, slammed the GOP argument that the bill would inhibit religious freedoms and said those protections are already enshrined in the law.
“I have listened to this debate in amazement,” Nadler said. “This bill enshrines equality, It enshrines equality for everyone — that’s its purpose. It does not contradict the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which I was the chief author of, but it does enshrine equality. And that’s what our friends on the other side of the aisle seem to be afraid of — equality.”
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