Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) signaled late Tuesday he would oppose the Equality Act, legislation to expand the prohibition on anti-LGBTQ discrimination under federal law, throwing a massive wrench into plans of the bill’s supporters to guide it into law.
“Sen. Romney believes that strong religious liberty protections are essential to any legislation on this issue, and since those provisions are absent from this particular bill, he is not able to support it,” said Arielle Mueller, a Romney spokesperson, via email to the Washington Blade in response to an inquiry on the Equality Act.
Romney’s office didn’t immediately respond to a follow-up email on whether Romney would be open to negotiations on religious liberty language that could lead him to support the legislation.
The Utah senator’s declared opposition to the Equality Act, which would amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to expand the prohibition on discrimination against LGBTQ people, comes shortly after news emerged House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) would hold a vote on the legislation in the U.S. House next week.
Although the Equality Act, sponsored by Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) in the House and Sen. Jeff Merkeley (D-Ore.) in the Senate, would likely have no trouble passing in the Democratic-controlled House, the Senate is a different story. With the makeup of that chamber a 50-50 party split, support from 10 Republicans would be needed to reach the 60 votes to end a filibuster on the legislation.
LGBTQ rights supporters were counting on Romney to contribute Republican support to get the Equality Act across the finish line. With his vote off the table, it’s hard to see how the legislation’s proponents would be able to find the 10 votes in the Republican caucus to end a filibuster.
President Biden had campaigned on signing the legislation in his first 100 days in office. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said last week Biden “stands by” his promise, but noted Congress has to take some additional steps.
Romney’s opposition to the Equality Act is consistent with remarks he made earlier this month in which he associated himself with Sen. Rand Paul’s (R-Ky.) attack on transgender kids in sports during Education Secretary-designate’s Miguel Cardona’s confirmation. To the condemnation of LGBTQ rights supporters, Paul said transgender participation in sports amounts to allowing boys in girls events and was a “bizarre” idea.
Romney echoed those comments during the same confirmation hearing, saying he would “associate” himself with Paul.
“That’s not something I say very frequently, but he made a very, very good point,” Romney said. ““I’ve got pictures of my eight granddaughters, amongst some grandsons, behind me. They shouldn’t be competing with people who are physiologically in an entirely different category.”
The Equality Act doesn’t explicitly address school sports, but it would affirm discrimination against transgender kids is prohibited in education and federal programs and suggest barring transgender kids from school sports is prohibited. Major sports associations, including the Olympics and the NCAA, have established internal rules based on sex characteristics, such as hormone levels, to govern allowing transgender athletes to compete based in those leagues on their gender identity.
If 10 Republicans aren’t present in the Senate to vote to end a filibuster on the Equality Act, one alternative would be for Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) to junk the legislative proceeding altogether. However, that would require a majority vote and support from the entire Democratic caucus, and Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), the only out bisexual in Congress, have said they won’t vote to scrap the filibuster.
The Blade couldn’t reach Sinema or Manchin’s office by press time Tuesday to comment on the Equality Act and whether the senators would reconsider their positions on the filibuster if the legislation is unable to advance in the Senate.
Romney’s opposition to the Equality Act stands in contrast to his statement in 1994 to Log Cabin Republicans, when he challenged the late Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) for his seat representing Massachusetts in the Senate. At the time, Romney said he would not only back the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, legislation to ban anti-gay discrimination in employment, but “if possible broaden [it] to include housing and credit.” Romney ended up losing in his challenge to Kennedy, much like he lost the 2012 presidential election against then-President Obama.