Washington — The House passed a bill on Thursday known as the Equality Act, which would enshrine legal protections for LGBTQ Americans by amending existing civil rights laws to prevent businesses and institutions from discriminating against people based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The bill passed by a vote of 224 to 206, with three Republicans joining Democrats in voting "yes."
"Every American deserves to be treated with respect and dignity. With today's vote, the House has again affirmed that LGBTQ people should enjoy the same rights and responsibilities as all other Americans," said Democratic Representative David Cicilline of Rhode Island, who led the push for the bill.
The bill first passed the House in 2019, but was not considered by the then-Republican controlled Senate and faced opposition from the Trump administration. Last year, the Supreme Court issued a ruling stating that the protections guaranteed by the 1964 Civil Rights Act on the basis of sex extended to discrimination against LGBTQ Americans. The Equality Act would explicitly set those protections for people based on orientation and gender identity, as opposed to having those safeguards included under the umbrella term of "sex."
The Equality Act would extend protections to cover federally funded programs, employment, housing, loan applications, education and public accommodations.
President Biden named passing the bill as one of his key priorities during his presidential campaign. He issued a statement supporting the bill when it was introduced by House Democrats last week.
"Every person should be treated with dignity and respect, and this bill represents a critical step toward ensuring that America lives up to our foundational values of equality and freedom for all," Mr. Biden said.
The bill is likely to face opposition from most Republicans in the House, who argue that it would infringe upon religious liberties. Opponents say the bill would harm businesses or organizations that wish to refuse service to LGBTQ Americans on religious grounds.
The legislation will also face an uphill battle in the Senate, which is evenly divided with a 50-50 party split. The bill will require 60 votes to advance in the upper chamber, and it is unclear whether 10 Republican senators would be willing to support the legislation. If Democrats opted to take the controversial step of eliminating the legislative filibuster, it would allow the bill to pass with a simple majority.
The bill has also stirred controversy on the House side. On Wednesday, GOP Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene forced an unsuccessful vote to adjourn the House in an effort to delay passage of the Equality Act. Greene, one of the bill's most vocal opponents, was recentlyof her committee positions due to her previous controversial comments and promotion of conspiracy theories.
Democratic Congresswoman Marie Newman, whose office is directly across from Greene's, raised a transgender pride flag outside of her office on Wednesday. After Newman, whose daughter is transgender, posted a video to Twitter of her hanging the flag, Greene quickly responded by posting her own video mocking Newman's tweet. Greene posted a sign outside her office that said: "There are TWO genders: Male & Female. Trust The Science!"
Greene's critics quickly accused her of being cruel and insensitive to Newman's family. GOP Congressman Adam Kinzinger, one of the Republicans who voted to strip Greene of her committee positions, said in a tweet that her action "represents the hate and fame driven politics of self-promotion at all evil costs."
Democratic Congressman Ted Lieu also pushed back against Greene in a tweet, quoting a Scientific American column that concludes "sex is not binary, transgender people are real."
In a speech on the House floor on Wednesday, Newman said that she was voting to approve the Equality Act in honor of her daughter.
"Without the Equality Act, this nation will never live up to its principles of freedom and equality," Newman said. "I'm voting yes on the Equality Act for Evie Newman, my daughter and the strongest, bravest person I know."