“All of us who are openly gay are living and writing the history of our movement. We are no more – and no less – heroic than the suffragists and abolitionists of the 19th century; and the labor organizers, Freedom Riders, Stonewall demonstrators, and environmentalists of the 20th century. We are ordinary people, living our lives, and trying as civil-rights activist Dorothy Cotton said, to ‘fix what ain’t right’ in our society.” ~ Senator Tammy Baldwin
Beyond Same-Sex Marriage
The LGBTQ community rejoiced in 2015 when the Supreme Court upheld the Constitutional right of same-sex couples to marry. There is no doubt that decision was transformative for many, but the celebration was soon tempered by almost immediate challenges.
In one high-profile case, a bakery outside of Denver refused to sell a wedding cake to a same-sex couple, citing the baker’s religious objections to gay people getting married. Other cases challenged the right of same-sex couples to adopt children and to ban gays from the military.
The reality is, in most places in the United States, life has not changed much at all since the gay marriage case was decided. In fact, in many places it has only gotten worse.
The Trump administration has routinely rolled back federal protections for LGBTQ people in the workforce, and removed mention of LGBTQ issues from all federal agency websites. The backlash against LGBTQ rights has also led to the enactment of oppressive state legislation in many parts of the country.
Today, we stand as a country divided on LGBTQ issues, where your right to be free from discrimination is based largely on your zip code.
A report released by the Human Rights Commission (HRC) in 2017 revealed that the majority of states do not have any non-discrimination laws that include sexual orientation or gender identity. 27 of the 50 states ranked in the lowest category “High Priority to Achieve Basic Equality” offering little to no protection to LGBTQ people. Only 13 states ranked in the highest category, “Working Toward Innovative Equality.”
The report also revealed that more than 125 new anti-LGBTQ laws were introduced in 30 states during 2017, including laws that target marriage equality and the transgender community.
The report ranked seven major categories, each with several sub criteria
- Parenting Laws
- Non- Discrimination Laws
- Relationship Recognition and Religious Refusal Laws
- Annual Progress (Evaluation how many Good Bills vs. Bad Bills have been introduced and passed)
- Hate Crime Laws
- Youth Laws
- Health and Safety Laws
“Every year, the State Equality Index gives us an opportunity to share some of the victories and heartbreak from the state-based movement for equality. This year it’s more important than ever because our progress is under assault from the Trump administration, Congress, and the courts. Despite our emboldened opposition, we still have great opportunity for legislative advocacy and policy making on the ground in states where this work has a critical impact for millions of Americans.” ~Rebecca Isaacs, executive director of Equality Federation Institute
The Need for Federal Legislation
In the absence of federal legislation, the President is able to exercise executive power to impose his view of the issue on the nation. The Trump administration has used that power liberally to cut back and narrow protections that had been put in place by previous administrations.
- Almost as soon as he was elected, all mention of LGBTQ issues was removed from federal agency websites.
- Early in his administration, he nominated Neil M. Gorsuch — one of the most extreme anti-LGBTQ judges on the federal bench, best known for his views on religious liberty — to the Supreme Court.
- The Attorney General issued a religious freedom memo that paved the way for the Department of Justice (DOJ) to expand protections for organizations to discriminate against LGBTQ individuals on the basis of religious or moral beliefs.
- In one of his most outrageous moves, he tweeted out his decision to ban transgender individuals from the military.
- The Secretary of Education reversed Obama-era guidance requiring public schools to allow transgender students to use the bathroom corresponding to their gender identities under Title IX.
- DOJ filed a brief in a Second Circuit case taking the position that Title VII does not apply to discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and urging the court to ignore the EEOC’s position to the contrary.
- Issued a memo to all federal prosecutors taking the position that Title VII does not apply to discrimination on the basis of gender identity (including discrimination against transgender individuals), rescinding guidance issued by Attorney General Holder in 2014.
“The simple and unfortunate reality is that for all the progress made in recent years, LGBT Americans still lack fundamental federal legal protections when it comes to issues like employment and housing,” said David Stacy, government affairs director for HRC. “Nearly two-thirds of LGBT Americans report experiencing discrimination, which is why now more than ever, we need a federal bill to ensure that everyone, including LGBT Americans, has a fair chance to earn a living, advance themselves, and be judged on their performance, not on who they are or who they love.”
License to Discriminate
Unless Congress acts, future administrations and state legislatures are free to adopt these and even more extreme measures that discriminate against the LGBTQ community. Here are just a few examples of how real people with real lives could be (and have been) impacted:
- A Social Security Administration employee could refuse to accept or process spousal or survivor benefits paperwork for a surviving same-sex spouse.
- A federal disaster contractor could refuse to provide services to LGBTQ people, including in emergencies, without risk of losing federal contracts.
- Organizations that previously were prohibited from requiring all of their employees to follow their faith could discriminate against LGBTQ people in the provision of benefits, such as contraceptive health care.
- Agencies receiving federal funding, and their individual staff members, could refuse to provide services to LGBTQ children in crisis, or to place adoptive or foster children with a same-sex or transgender couple.
Public Support for Federal Legislation
A poll conducted by HRC in 2017 revealed that more than 2/3 of likely voters support a federal nondiscrimination law. According to the survey, voters across party lines overwhelmingly approved such legislation: Republicans supported it 51% to 43%, Independents supported it 72% to 23% and Democrats supported it 80% to 18%.
What is the Equality Act?*
The Equality Act would provide consistent and explicit non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people across key areas of life, including employment, housing, credit, education, public spaces and services, federally funded programs, and jury service.
The Equality Act would amend existing civil rights law — including the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Fair Housing Act, the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, the Jury Selection and Services Act, and several laws regarding employment with the federal government — to explicitly include sexual orientation and gender identity as protected characteristics.
The legislation also amends the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to prohibit discrimination in public spaces and services and federally funded programs on the basis of sex. Additionally, the Equality Act would update the public spaces and services covered in current law to include retail stores, services such as banks and legal services, and transportation services.
These important updates would strengthen existing protections for everyone. Decades of civil rights history show that civil rights laws are effective in decreasing discrimination because they provide strong federal remedies targeted to specific vulnerable groups. By explicitly including sexual orientation and gender identity in these fundamental laws, LGBTQ people will finally be afforded the exact same protections as other covered characteristics under federal law.
5,000 People of Faith Call on Congress to Pass the Equality Act
As people of faith, we urge Congress to support the Equality Act. Our faith traditions teach us that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, straight, cisgender, and queer people are all created with sacred dignity and worth. We are taught to respect and love others as ourselves in our words, deeds, and laws. Now is the time to update our federal laws to respect and uphold the sacred dignity and worth of all people. In doing so, we will live up to our nation’s values of freedom, equality, and opportunity for all.
Where Does it Stand?
The bipartisan Equality Act, first introduced in Congress in July 2015, is sponsored by Representatives David Cicilline (D-RI) and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA) in the House and Senators Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Susan Collins (R-ME), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) and Cory Booker (D-NJ) in the Senate. It was reintroduced in the House in March 2019, and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) prioritized its passage.
The Equality is backed by more than 200 major corporations which have joined HRC’s Business Coalition for the Equality Act. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and National Association of Manufacturers have announced their support, along with more than 500 statewide and national organizations — including social justice, religious, medical and child welfare organizations.
Historic Passage in the House
On May 17, 2019, the Equality Act passed in the U.S. House of by a vote of 236-173 Eight Republicans joined 228 Democrats to vote in favor of the legislation. As the legislation made its way through both the House Judiciary and Labor and Education Committees, HRC released several videos from members of Congress in support of the Equality Act, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Senators Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) and Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Representatives Bonnie Watson (D-NJ), John Lewis (D-GA), Stephanie Murphy (D-FL) and Pramila Jayapal (D-WA).
“Today’s historic vote is a major milestone for equality and sends a powerful and profound message to LGBTQ people, especially LGBTQ youth, that the U.S. House has their backs,” said HRC President Chad Griffin. “No one’s rights should depend on which side of a state or city line they live on, and today we took a giant step forward in our journey toward full equality. This historic victory would not have been possible without the millions of LGBTQ people and our allies who organized, mobilized and turned out to elect a pro-equality majority in 2018. Now, we will take our fight to the U.S. Senate and turn up the pressure on Leader McConnell to allow a vote on this crucial legislation. And we won’t slow down in working to turn out the 10 million eligible LGBTQ voters and our millions more allies to elect a pro-equality president in 2020 who will sign the Equality Act into law.”