The Equality Act
What is it and how is it doing?
The Equality Act was introduced to improve the protection of women and the LGBTQ+ community. It would move to amend things like the Civil Rights Act to specifically indicate protection of sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity against discrimination in public spaces. Therefore, the aim of the Equality Act is more about amending existing civil rights laws to explicitly extend protection to LGBTQ+ people than it is to create a separate bill in which to include brand new civil rights on equal treatment. The definition of 'public space' would also be expanded.
What the Equality Act aims to achieve by these amendments to civil rights legislation is to ensure that people will not be able to deny services on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity anymore. LGBTQ+ people would have equal access to medical care, housing, and employment.
This kind of amendment is needed because violent discrimination again LGBTQ+ people is still a daily occurrence, and there is very little in terms of federal law that protects the rights of transgender people in the US. Furthermore, it is difficult to understand how such blatant discrimination is still possible in a place like the US, where an advocacy organization such as the human rights campaign find their home.
History of The Equality Act
The original version of the Equality Act was released in 1974 and also sought to amend the civil rights act. However, it failed to proceed to the vote. Various different versions of the Equality Act would follow over the next few years, but it was only in 2019 that the bill passed now, the hope is that the Equality Act will be passed into law. Several versions of the Equality Act have been suppressed and reintroduced over the years, and although this latest version has passed the House vote, it still needs to pass Senate.
After the initial failure of the Equality Act to progress, in 1994 the employment non-discrimination act was introduced, but there was concern that it was not comprehensive enough. In 2013 it was amended to be more specific about gender identity and orientation discrimination, but it never advanced in the House.
Although the Equality Act has technically passed the House vote, it has not yet passed Senate and, at this point, does not seem likely to pass unless there is a dramatic shift. The Senate appears to be more torn, and although there has been some indication of solid support, there is a genuine concern that the support is not strong enough for the Equality Act to pass at this point. The main issue remains concerns of strong religious liberty opposition. Many believe that LGBTQ+ protections in the Equality Act would detract from strong religious protections, specifically that LGBTQ+ protections suppress the religious freedom of expression.
LGBTQ+ Nondiscrimination Protections
This type of protection is essential in the US as discrimination is still rife. Many LGBTQ+ people lose housing or employment, etc., due to their status, and this can have serious negative consequences on their socioeconomic status, not to mention their mental and physical health. They are also then further denied access to federal funding, which only increases the scope of the issues that LGBTQ+ people and transgender people face in their daily lives.
The Equality Act enjoys broad support both from US citizens and from businesses. However, as mentioned earlier, the support within the US Senate does not seem sufficient for the bill to pass.
There is a legal precedent that states that it is against the Civil Rights Act for an employer or possible employer to discriminate against someone based on their sexual orientation and gender identity. Still, there is no federal law protecting LGBTQ+ people in this way. The Equality Act aims to state nondiscrimination protections explicitly.
Current Civil Rights Law on Discrimination
The current Civil Rights law only prohibits discrimination based on race, religion, sex, and national origin. Implementation of the Equality Act would extend protection in civil rights law to include categories related to sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity.
Gender Identity Discrimination
Gender identity discrimination remains a significant influence on the mental health, physical health, and overall well-being of LGBTQ+ Americans. We have to remember that discrimination does not end with a few snide words. There is a high prevalence of physical violence, especially against transgender Americans, and more so against transgender women of color. Sex discrimination is the cause of unprecedented high levels of physical violence, and there is very little in terms of federal law that protects victims of such violence. Civil rights laws obviously have not been adequate to protect LGBTQ+ people, and this does press the issue that there is a need for further anti-discrimination laws to ensure the proper non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ+ people.
Furthermore, discrimination in this fashion can result in LGBTQ+ Americans being denied access to essential services such as education, employment, housing, etc., simply based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Discrimination based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
There is some legal precedence, following a case where the supreme court ruled in favor of LGBTQ+ rights that protect the LGBTQ+ community from discrimination in the workplace based on their sexual orientation and gender identity. Still, the Equality Act aims to make this more concrete by explicitly stipulating it. The Equality Act would prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity as well as biological sex since there is still a great deal of discrimination again cisgender women based on their biological sex alone.
Similarly, the Equality Act wants to stipulate expressly that LGBTQ+ people cannot be discriminated against when it comes to any aspect of housing. Either selling or renting and everything from pricing to harassment will be included. In addition, the proposed changes to the Fair Housing Act would explicitly stipulate Civil Rights protections based on sex discrimination.
Thus the Fair Housing Act would include terminology that ensures nondiscrimination protections.
The Equality Act would also want to expressly stipulate that people cannot be denied any sort of credit based on only their LGBTQ+ status upon the bill's passage. This would include education-related credit for a young person who might be on the LGBTQ+ spectrum.
Access to Federally Funded Programs
This change is sorely needed for the LGBTQ+ community. They face many challenges in their everyday lives and still can be denied access to such programs based on their gender identity or sexual orientation. This is arguably the most essential step that the act wants to take in terms of LGBTQ+ nondiscrimination protections. This would also include access to federally funded health care and education programs for all LGBTQ+ Americans as part of their fundamental rights.
The Equality Act also aims to expand the definition of public spaces in order to extend protection to the community to places like restaurants and stores, where many people experienced discrimination regularly in the recent past. This would also extend protection for cisgender women as establishments would not be able to charge them higher prices than cisgender men anymore and would also not be able to deny them access to health care establishments.
People of Faith
Much of the protection against discrimination that the Equality Act is aiming for would extend protection to people of faith as well. It would make it very difficult for public spaces and establishments to discriminate against religious organizations or specific religions as well. The Equality Act aims to strengthen religious liberty. Although there is much debate about this and the main reason that the Equality Act has faced opposition is that some people feel that it limits religious expressions.
There is even some minor concern that the way the law is phrased now allows the judiciary to exclude LGBTQ+ people from jury service based on their identity or orientation. This is obviously also not ideal and the feeling is that public accommodations protections should be extended to prohibit such exclusions. As it stands public accommodations protections do preclude discrimination based on sex, but gender identity and orientation are not expressly included in this preclusion as yet. The Equality Act aims to remedy this as well.
Main Oppositions of The Equality Act
The primary source of opposition to the Equality Act was the house republicans, who stated that the act infringed on their right to religious freedom and thus urged congress to oppose the Equality Act. They did this on the basis that the Equality Act would make certain views on marriage and sexuality illegal and would place transgender athletes at an unfair advantage.
One of the most publicly vocal opponents has been representative Marjorie Taylor Greene. She caused a stir on social media after posting an anti-trans sign outside of her office door. This was down the hall from the office of Congresswoman Marie Newman, who had a transgender pride flag by her office in support of her transgender daughter.
Many felt that this was a clear indication of the kind of discrimination that the Equality Act would tackle. They also thought that it clearly highlighted the need for explicit non-discrimination protections for sex discrimination against LGBTQ+ Americans.