The Equality Act would benefit everyone

By Steve Kilar, July 2019 Issue.

In May, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Equality Act,

landmark legislation that has the potential to modernize our federal civil

rights laws by explicitly making discrimination based on sexual orientation and

gender identity unlawful nationwide.

The bill’s

passage, by a margin of 236 to 173, was a huge victory. It was the first time

that an LGBTQ rights bill of this magnitude made it through either the U.S.

House or Senate.

Polling has for years shown that there is

majority support among Americans for nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ

people. The passage of the Equality Act demonstrates that support among voters

for LGBTQ equality can translate into support among politicians. Even eight

Republicans — from Indiana, Florida, Texas, Oregon, New York, and Pennsylvania

— voted in favor of the Equality Act.

Public Religion

Research Institute, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that produces policy

research related to religion and culture in the U.S., recently released 2018

survey results about LGBTQ equality.

“Nearly seven

in 10 (69%) Americans favor laws that would protect LGBT people from

discrimination in jobs, public accommodations, and housing,” the researchers

stated. “Support for these protections has remained steady over the past few

years, with around seven in 10 Americans reporting that they favor

nondiscrimination provisions for LGBT people in 2017 (70%), 2016 (72%), and

2015 (71%).”

The researchers

found there’s broad support for a law like the Equality Act, including majority

support within all major religious denominations, racial groups and states, and

across the political spectrum.


lobbyists put it in a letter of support for the Equality Act that was sent to

members of Congress, the bill would “provide LGBTQ people with consistent,

explicit, and nationwide protections across all of the key areas of daily life,

including employment, housing, and access to public spaces and services.”

Right now,

LGBTQ people in some places are protected from discrimination by a patchwork of

state and local laws. Arizona still does not protect LGBTQ people from

discrimination statewide, although six municipalities (Phoenix, Tempe, Tucson,

Flagstaff, Sedona, and Winslow) include sexual orientation and gender identity

in their nondiscrimination ordinances.

The Equality

Act would supplement this patchwork, creating stability across the country for

LGBTQ people and giving businesses that operate across state lines a better

understanding of their potential liability for discrimination. In addition, the

Equality Act includes important updates to federal civil rights laws that have

nothing to with sexual orientation or gender identity.

Here are some

of the ways the Equality Act would improve our federal civil rights laws. Many

of the changes would benefit everyone, not only LGBTQ people.

The Equality

Act would prohibit housing and employment discrimination based on sexual

orientation and gender identity. Some courts have determined sexual orientation

and gender identity discrimination are forms of sex discrimination, which is

already prohibited by federal law in the housing and employment contexts. But

the U.S. Supreme Court is considering LGBTQ employment cases during its next

term and could come to the opposite conclusion. For that reason, it would be best

to have an LGBTQ-inclusive definition of sex discrimination written into the

housing and employment civil rights statutes.

The Equality

Act would prohibit sex discrimination, including sexual orientation and gender

identity discrimination, in public accommodations. Right now, federal law only

prohibits public accommodations from discriminating because of race, color,

religion or national origin, so this update would provide new discrimination

protection for everyone.

The Equality Act would expand the types of

businesses considered public accommodations. Under current federal law, public

accommodations include hotels and motels, restaurants, gas stations, and

entertainment venues, like movie theatres and sports stadiums. The Equality Act

would make this list of businesses longer by including “any establishment that

provides a good, service, or program” in either a brick-and-mortar setting or

online. Transportation providers, retailers, salons, food banks, shelters, and

funeral parlors, as well as health care, accounting, and legal services, are

all among the types of businesses that would be newly identified as public

accommodations. This expanded definition would be helpful to everyone and would

clearly prohibit the common forms of discriminatory harassment that have come

to be known as “shopping while black” and “flying while brown.”

The Equality

Act would also make it clear that sex discrimination, including sexual

orientation and gender identity discrimination, is prohibited by credit

providers, public schools and other public services, and federally funded

programs. Excluding LGBTQ people from jury service because of their sexual

orientation or gender identity would also be banned.

The Equality

Act would also make plain that a federal law protecting religious freedom, the

Religious Freedom Restoration Act, is not a giant loophole for religious

beliefs to be used as a license to discriminate. Again, this clarification

benefits everyone who might face discrimination, not just LGBTQ people.

It seems unlikely the Equality Act will

gain traction in the Republican-controlled Senate. But because the strength of

our civil rights often depends on our elected officials, we should still know

where our senators stand on the bill so that we’re informed next time we’re asked

to cast a ballot in their favor.

Sen. Kyrsten

Sinema is a co-sponsor of the Equality Act. Sen. Martha McSally is not, and her

office did not respond to an inquiry about her position on the bill.

Mark Kelly, who

is challenging McSally in 2020, did reply though.

“No one should be subject to discrimination in the workplace or

elsewhere because of who they are,” Kelly said. “I support the Equality Act to

ensure that all LGBTQ Arizonans and Americans have equal protections and the

opportunity to earn a living and raise a family without fear of


Photo by Kenny Eliason on Unsplash

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