Thursday, 25th Feb 2021, marked voting of the Equality Act by the House of Representative -A bill that would ban discrimination against people based on their gender identity and sexual orientation. It’s a bill that President Biden said on the campaign trail would be one of his top legislative priorities for the first 100 days of his presidency. The House vote was largely along party lines, passing with the support of all Democrats and just three Republicans. The bill now goes to the Senate, where its fate is unclear.
Biden reiterated his support in a statement: “I urge Congress to swiftly pass this historic legislation,” he wrote. “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.”
While the Equality Act has a huge support of Democrats, a lot of Republicans oppose this act fearing that it would infringe upon religious objections.
Below is a quick breakdown of the implications of the bill.
Implications of the Equality Act
The Equality Act would amend the 1964 Civil Rights Act to explicitly prevent discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
The bill has been introduced multiple times before and previously passed the House in 2019. However, the law’s impact would be different in practical terms now than it was then.
That’s because the Supreme Court ruled in June of last year, in Bostock v. Clayton County, that the protections guaranteed by the 1964 Civil Rights Act on the basis of sex also extend to discrimination against lesbian, gay, and transgender Americans. This act would explicitly enshrine those nondiscrimination protections into law for sexual orientation and gender identity, rather than those protections being looped in under the umbrella of “sex.” However, the Equality Act would also substantially expand those protections.
The Civil Rights Act covered discrimination in certain areas, like employment and housing. The Equality Act would expand that to cover federally funded programs, as well as “public accommodations” — a broad category including retail stores and stadiums, for example.
Importantly, the bill also explicitly says that it trumps the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (commonly known by its acronym RFRA). The law, passed in 1993, set a higher bar for the government to defend laws if people argued those laws infringed upon religious freedom. Under the Equality Act, an entity couldn’t use RFRA to challenge the act’s provisions, nor could it use RFRA as a defence to a claim made under the act.