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May 17, 2019 at 10:02 am PDT | by Chris Johnson
In first, House approves Equality Act to ban comprehensively LGBT discrimination

The U.S. House under Nancy Pelosi passed the Equality Act. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

For the first-time ever, a chamber of Congress has approved legislation with support that amend the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 to ban comprehensibly discrimination against LGBT people.

Under the new Democratic majority elected in the mid-term election, the House approved the legislation by a vote of 236-173 as openly gay Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.) presided over the chamber.

As a majority of votes for the bill became apparent and as the vote was called, Democrats and guest in House gallery applauded and cheered. Among those giving a standing applause in the gallery were Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, and Sharon McGowan, legal director for Lambda Lega.

Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), the most senior openly gay member of Congress and chief sponsor of the Equality Act, said the legislation would “grant full legal to the LGBTQ community here in America” and the vote was “truly historic.”

“The American people think it’s time to protect the LGBTQ community,” Cicilline said. “There is nothing more central to the idea of America than the guarantee of equal protection under the law for every single American.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), wearing a rainbow wristband as she spoke on the House floor, invoked both the Founding Fathers and the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots in support of the Equality Act.

“Fifty years after the LBGTQ Americans took to the streets outside of New York’s Stonewall Inn to fight against harassment and hate, we take pride in the progress we have forged together,” Pelosi said. “Our Founders, in their great wisdom, wrote in our beautiful preamble – wrote of the blessings of liberty, which were to be the birthright of all Americans. To bring our nation closer to the founding promise of liberty and justice for all, we, today, pass the Equality Act and finally, fully end discrimination against LGBTQ Americans.”

The Democratic caucus was united in support of the legislation. Eight Republicans voted for the Equality Act: Reps. Susan Brooks (Ind.), Mario Diaz-Balart (Fla.), Brian Fitzpatrick (Pa.), Will Hurd (Texas), John Katko (N.Y.), Tom Reed (N.Y.), Elise Stefanik (N.Y.) and Greg Walden (Ore.).

The Equality Act would amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Fair Housing Act to ban anti-LGBT discrimination in employment, housing, public accommodations, jury service, education, federal programs and credit.

The bill also seeks to update federal law to include sex in the list of protected classes in public accommodation in addition to expanding the definition of public accommodations to include retail stores, banks, transportation services and health care services. Further, the Equality Act would establish that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act — a 1994 law aimed at protecting religious liberty — can’t be used to enable anti-LGBT discrimination.

The House approved the Equality Act after a tumultuous 90-minute debate in which Democrat affirmed supported for equality for LGBT people and Republican stoked dubious and incorrect complaints about children being forced to have gender reassignment surgeries, imposition on women’s privacy and penalties imposed on religious organizations.

The House voted to approve the Equality Act after rejecting a motion to recommit introduced by Rep. Greg Steube (R-Ga.) to clarify the legislation can’t be construed to diminish Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which bars sex discrimination and fostered women’s participation in sports.

Prior to the vote, Rep. Ben McAdams (D-Utah) held with Cicilline a colloquy on the House floor to clarify houses of worship could continue to restrict entrance to its membership and clergy could refuse to perform same-sex weddings despite the ban on discrimination in public accommodations in the Equality Act. In the event of litigation before the courts, the colloquy would clarify that was intent of lawmakers behind the Equality Act.

With 241 co-sponsors in the House, there was no doubt when the vote was scheduled on Friday the chamber would approve the legislation. But the bill now heads to the Republican-controlled Senate, where it faces an uphill battle. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who has called himself the “grim reaper” of legislation approved by the Democratic-controlled House, controls the chamber.

In the miraculous event the Senate approves the Equality Act, the bill would head to the desk of President Trump, who indicated this week via a senior administration official to the Washington Blade he opposes the legislation based on unspecified “poison pills” in the bill.

More to come…

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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