The Equality Act Passes the House of Representatives

In a crucial vote yesterday for basic equality, the House of Representatives passed legislation that would create protections for the LGBT community when it comes to things like employment, housing, education, public spaces, and credit. The measure passed by a 236-173 margin and included eight Republicans who were willing to cross party lines to support basic equality.

The vote was almost immediately praised by supporters of equality as there have been some legislative setbacks recently. In Virginia, for instance, the GOP controlled House of Delegates refused to even properly consider legislation preventing discrimination when it comes to public employment and housing despite visible support from people all over the Commonwealth. Virginia isn’t alone as thirty states still leave the LGBT community vulnerable because they don’t have any statewide protections.

These statistics are highly disturbing as nearly two-thirds of people who identity as part of the LGBT community have experienced some sort of discrimination. And the thirty states without any protections are home to half of the LGBT community in America, which means there are no protections for an extremely large number of people who could be fired simply because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Despite all this, the religious right has already begun efforts to villainize the legislation and make sure that it doesn’t make its way through the senate.The National Review, for instance, has published articles discussing how the Equality Act would supposedly undermine religious freedom and would be a blow to women’s rights by doing things such as allowing men to end up in domestic abuse shelters designed for women.

These claims are somewhat interesting considering how the religious right is currently caught up in attacking women’s rights. As the debate surrounding reproductive rights has progressed recently, a Republican elected official from Missouri claimed that most rapes “were date rapes or consensual rapes.” While he’s tried to backtrack his statement, the obvious implication of his comments was that he believes most rape victims were somehow asking to be raped by interacting with men in a certain way.

The other popular argument being promoted by the right is that the legislation would destroy women’s athletics by allowing transwomen to compete in female events. This is simply another attempt to spread a mistruth in order to score cheap political points as several states that already have gender identity non-discrimination laws and all of them still have female athletics.

Perhaps the religious right is trying to scare up some opposition to the Equality Act because there’s been an increase in visible support for the LGBT community in recent years. In the lead up to the legislation being introduced in the House, over 200 major companies joined a coalition supporting the Equality Act and over 500 statewide and national organizations also expressed support. Plus, even when you include people from all across the political spectrum, recent polling shows that nearly seventy percent of Americans support non-discrimination policies like those spelled out in the Equality Act.

Nonetheless, the GOP has already made it clear it’s willing to look past what the general public is saying on a variety of issues so the Equality Act is projected to face an uphill battle in the Republican controlled Senate. As of right now, it’s not even clear whether or not Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will allow the legislation to come up for a vote. Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and other supporters of equality are trying to put some pressure on McConnell, but they don’t seem optimistic about the outcome.

“Americans should be very proud today! The House just passed the bipartisan #EqualityAct. Because NO American should face discrimination simply because of who they are or who they love” Schumer tweeted yesterday. “Now it’s time for [Mitch] McConnell to hold a vote in the Senate.”

Even if the legislation did make it through the Senate, the White House has made it clear that Donald Trump wouldn’t sign the legislation into law if it came to his desk. One senior official even went as far as to claim the Equality Act “is filled with poison pills that threaten to undermine parental and conscience rights.”

This all means that while equality advocates should take some time to celebrate the legislation passing the House of Representatives, there’s still a lot of work to be done to ensure the LGBT community is protected from discrimination.

About Bryan J. Scrafford

Bryan Scrafford grew up in the Northern Virginia suburbs of Washington, DC and stayed in the region for both college and his professional life. An avid baseball and hockey fan, Bryan's also involved with several advocacy organizations fighting for economic justice, LGBT rights, and other issues. You can follow him on twitter at @bscrafford and Instagram at @bjscrafford
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