This Sweeping Federal LGBT Bill Goes Where State Policies Don’t

Aug 2, 2015 by

The Equality Act would prohibit discrimination against LGBT people in housing, employment, and education.

On Thursday, congressional Democrats introduced the Equality Act, a bill that aims to fill in the gaps where the patchwork of state policies often fails to fully protect lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people. The measure aims to outlaw the discrimination of LGBT people in education, employment, federal funding, housing, credit, and even jury service. The bill is not expected to succeed in the Republican-majority Congress.

So, Why Should You Care? Same-sex marriage is now legal across the U.S., but LGBT people still face discrimination in many other facets of daily life. Though it isn’t likely to succeed, the bill’s introduction makes clear that Democratic legislators are serious about pursuing comprehensive nondiscrimination protections for LGBT people.

Here are four key things to know about the Equality Act.

1. It goes much further than a previous attempt to ban employment discrimination against LGBT people.

The Employment Non-Discrimination Act was introduced last year to prohibit workplace discrimination, but the measure died in the House. ENDA also faced criticism from LGBT advocacy groups—some of which withdrew support for the bill after the Supreme Court ruled that certain family-owned businesses don’t have to offer their employees contraceptive coverage if it conflicts with their religious beliefs. The groups were concerned that ENDA was written so broadly that the high court’s ruling would effectively allow employers to discriminate against LGBT employees under the guise of religious beliefs.

2. Not all LGBT advocates support the bill.

Most advocates agree that a federal legislative effort to prohibit discrimination against LGBT people is needed. Some groups, however, disagree about the ideal path to that goal. The Washington Blade, a well-regarded LGBT news outlet, reports that the Equality Act will seek to amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to include sexual orientation and gender identity. The Civil Rights Act bans discrimination on the basis of race, religion, national origin, and in some sections, sex. “Some are concerned about opening up, arguably, the most important statute Congress has ever enacted for the issue of racial discrimination,” Wade Henderson, president of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, told The Wall Street Journal.

3. The law would protect transgender students and prisoners.

The legislation would require schools to allow transgender students to use locker rooms and bathrooms that accurately reflect their gender identity. A fact sheet for the bill says, “Where sex-segregated facilities exist, individuals must be admitted in accordance with their gender identity.” This broad language suggests transgender prisoners would no longer be housed based on their birth sex, a big step toward protecting transgender people behind bars. Transgender men and women often endure physical attacks and sexual violence when housed in correctional facilities that don’t match their gender identity.

4. The First Amendment Defense Act could succeed while the Equality Act fails.

Congressional Republicans are supporting a sweeping “religious freedom” bill that would permit businesses and individuals to act on the basis of their religious beliefs without federal intervention. The religious freedom argument gained national attention earlier this year after Indiana drew criticism for passing the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a bill that, among other things, essentially allowed businesses to refuse service to LGBT customers on the basis of their religious beliefs. Similar bills were considered in 28 other states. The First Amendment Defense Act, introduced by Sen. Mike Lee of Utah and Rep. Raul Labrador of Idaho, both Republicans, has 134 cosponsors in the House and 36 cosponsors in the Senate.

Source: This Sweeping Federal LGBT Bill Goes Where State Policies Don’t | TakePart

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