Congress is heading full steam ahead with the Equality Act, legislation to expand LGBTQ civil rights protections President Biden campaigned on signing within his first 100 days in office, with introduction of the bill expected imminently and a House floor vote now scheduled for next week, the Washington Blade has learned.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), who manages the floor proceedings in the House, affirmed in a “Dear Colleague” letter on Tuesday the Equality Act would be one of two pieces of legislation the chamber will take up next week in the aftermath of consideration of the American Rescue Plan to address coronavirus relief.
“Other legislation coming to the floor next week are two bills that passed through the House last Congress: a wilderness package and the Equality Act, which will end legal discrimination against LGBTQ Americans,” Hoyer writes.
Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) and Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) are set to introduce the Equality Act in their respective chambers of Congress as they have in years past.
Although the Supreme Court decision last year in Bostock v. Clayton County extended vast protections for LGBTQ people under federal law, securing a prohibition against anti-LGBTQ discrimination in the workplace sought for decades by movement leaders as well as all areas of civil rights law where sex discrimination is prohibited, the Equality Act would take things a step further.
In addition to the explicit declaration that anti-LGBTQ discrimination is a form of sex discrimination in employment, education, housing, jury service and credit, the Equality Act would amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex and LGBTQ status in public accommodations and federal programs.
Further, the Equality Act would expand the definition of public accommodations under federal civil rights law to include retail stores, banks, transportation services, and health care services. The legislation would also establish that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act — a 1994 law aimed at protecting religious liberty — can’t be used to enable anti-LGBTQ discrimination.
The Equality Act was the cornerstone of President Biden’s campaign promises to LGBTQ people. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told the Washington Blade at the start of the month Biden “stands by” his campaign promise to sign the legislation within 100 days, but added Congress has to take the initial steps.