The House on Thursday passed the Equality Act, a sweeping civil rights bill that expands protections in education, housing, employment and more to LGBT people.
The bill would also prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in credit, jury service and public accommodations.
Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) reintroduced the legislation, which passed the House in 2019 but never moved in the Senate. The bill, which passed the House on Thursday by a vote of 224-206, faces an uphill battle in the upper chamber, where GOP support is needed to reach the 60-vote threshold.
The bill would amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Equal Credit Opportunity Act and the Jury Selection and Services Act by extending existing protections to sexual orientation and gender identity.
Proponents of the legislation argue it’s a necessary step toward ensuring equal rights for all Americans regardless of sexual orientation.
“Madam speaker, discrimination is wrong. As children, we learn the golden rule: treat others the way you yourself want to be treated. Right now discrimination is a fact of life for millions of LGBTQ Americans,” Cicilline said on the floor ahead of the vote.
“The fact is that in most states an LGBTQ person is at risk of being denied housing, education, or serve on a jury because of who they are. That's why we are here to consider HR 5, the Equality Act. The equality act does no more and no less than say LGBTQ people deserve the same rights and responsibilities as all other Americans — most fundamentally the right to live lives free of discrimination.”
But the measure received strong pushback from conservatives, with critics arguing that it could infringe on religious liberties and could lead to taxpayer-funded abortion. They have also taken issue with its language allowing transgender women to take part in women’s sports.
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) forcing two motion to vacate procedural votes, argued that members needed “some time to think about how they're going to vote on the Equality Act, but because the Equality Act truly destroys women's sports and women's rights.”
Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) vowed to fight it in the courts if it is signed into law, arguing it is unconstitutional and blasting Democrats for opting not to have the bill go through the committee process.
"The definition of sex in HR 5 inserts the right to abortion into the Civil Rights Act, the Equality Act could be used to force a universal right to abortion until birth, it forces medical professionals to conduct or assist in performing abortions and perform certain surgeries, administer hormone blockers even if it is against their medical advice, forces employers to cover sexual assignment surgeries, forces schools, hospitals, and businesses to recognize a chosen gender. I can go down the list, but this is about power and control,” he said on the floor.
Major companies like AT&T, Bank of America, Chevron, CVS and General Motors support the passage of the legislation and are part of Human Rights Campaign’s Business Coalition.
The bill follows the Supreme Court decision in June that the country’s laws on sex discrimination in the workplace also apply to discrimination against LGBT individuals.
The Justice Department in the waning days of the Trump administration issued a last-minute memo to limit the scope of the decision, but President Biden’s acting head of the Justice Department’s civil rights division revoked the directive last month.
President Biden last week urged swift action on the legislation.