Democrats in Congress plan to introduce a sweeping measure this week that would extend civil rights protections to LGBT Americans.
The Equality Act — which is a revamped version of the failed Employment Non-Discrimination Act, or ENDA — would prohibit anti-LGBT discrimination in seven areas: credit, education, employment, federal funding, housing, jury service and public accommodations.
Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I. (right), and Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore. (below right), plan to introduce the bill on Thursday, according to a report in The Washington Blade:
In his letter to colleagues, Cicilline makes the case although the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of marriage equality nationwide LGBT people in most states “still lack basic legal protections against discrimination.”
“Every day, millions of LGBT Americans face the danger of real discrimination and sometimes even violence because of their sexual orientation or gender identity,” Cicilline said. “In most states, a same-sex couple can get married on Saturday, post pictures on Facebook on Sunday, and then risk being fired from their job or kicked out of their apartment on Monday.”
It’s unclear whether the Equality Act will have any Republican co-sponsors, which means it probably isn’t going anywhere. It’s also unclear whether the bill would amend existing civil rights laws protecting other minorities or establish separate protections for LGBT people.
BuzzFeed News reports that the most controversial aspect of the bill may be its public accommodations provisions:
Religious freedom bills in Indiana and Arkansas became national lightning rods this spring, raising disagreement about whether business owners selling cakes or flowers to same-sex couples who are marrying compromised the moral rights of Christians.
But Allison Steinberg, a spokeswoman for the American Civil Liberties Union, which advocates for LGBT rights and religious liberties, argues this should be an open and shut issue.
“Open for business means open for all,” Steinberg told BuzzFeed News. “A public serving business owner can’t turn someone away because of their race, color, religion, sex, or national origin, nor should they be allowed to deny someone service because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.”
As we mentioned earlier this week, conservative Republicans in Congress have introduced another bill, the First Amendment Defense Act, which would essentially do the opposite of the Equality Act: promote anti-gay discrimination.