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Equality Act Reintroduced in Congress

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The Equality Act builds on the 2020 Supreme Court ruling that the Civil Rights Act prohibits anti-LGBTQ discrimination in employment. (nito/Adobe Stock)
The Equality Act builds on the 2020 Supreme Court ruling that the Civil Rights Act prohibits anti-LGBTQ discrimination in employment. (nito/Adobe Stock)
 By Andrea Sears - Producer, Contact
February 19, 2021

NEW YORK - A bill to update federal civil-rights laws to include comprehensive protections for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer or Questioning Americans comes up for a vote in the House of Representatives next week.

The Equality Act was reintroduced in the House yesterday by Rhode Island Rep. David Cicilline - D-Providence.

It would amend existing federal civil-rights laws to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, housing, credit, education, public accommodations and federally funded programs.

Kevin Jennings, CEO of Lambda Legal, noted the first effort to pass such a law was introduced by Reps. Bella Abzug and Ed Koch in 1974.

"Some version of the Equality Act has now been before Congress for 47 years," said Jennings. "It's time for LGBT people to be guaranteed equal rights under the law by the federal government."

President Joe Biden has said adopting the act would be a priority in his first 100 days in office.

According to Jennings, a patchwork of nondiscrimination laws among states leaves lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people vulnerable to discrimination on a daily basis.

"Right now, there are protections in some areas and not others," said Jennings. "There's protection in some states and not others. Literally, when you cross a state border in America, if you're LGBT, you may be losing some of your rights."

The Equality Act would also update the public accommodations law, adding protections from discrimination in public places and by service providers.

Recent court rulings and legislation have whittled away some civil-rights protections in the name of preserving religious freedom. Though the Equality Act has bipartisan support, Jennings said he believes if it passes, it will also be challenged.

"They will, of course, challenge this in the court of law," said Jennings. "And Lambda Legal will be happy to face them there, because we know that broad-based civil rights protections are both constitutional and morally right."

Sen. Jeff Merkley - D-Oregon - is expected to introduce the Equality Act in the Senate next week.

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