WASHINGTON (AP) — The Democratic-led House is passed a bill Thursday that enshrines protections in the nation’s labor and civil rights laws for LGBTQ people.
The bill passed by a 224-206 margin. All 221 Democrats voted in favor of the bill while all but three Republicans voted in opposition.
The legislation is a top priority of President Joe Biden, though the bill faces an uphill battle in the Senate.
“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,” wrote Biden in a statement when the act was introduced last week.
The Equality Act amends existing civil rights law to explicitly include sexual orientation and gender identification as protected characteristics.
Supporters say the law would ensure that every person is treated equally under the law. But some religious groups and social conservatives worry that the bill would force people to take actions that contradict their religious beliefs.
The bill now moves to the Senate where it faces an uncertain future.
Not surprisingly, it prompted divergent responses from Kentucky’s delegation with the five Republicans opposing it and the one Democrat supporting it.
District 3 Democrat U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth voted for H.R. 5.
“As a longtime supporter of the Equality Act, it was an honor to cast my vote in favor of this landmark legislation and move us closer to being a nation where no one is discriminated against because of who they are or who they love. With Senate passage hopefully on the horizon and President Biden’s signature sure to follow, we stand at the precipice of LGBTQ Americans finally having protections against losing jobs, homes, or services due to their identity. That we should have been here long ago does not diminish the monumental progress that the Equality Act brings. The long arc of moral history took a sharp turn toward justice today, and I could not be prouder,” Yarmuth said in a statement.
U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers voted no, urging the U.S. Senate to “block passage of any bill that works to collapse the separation of church and state.”
“I have always supported equality, but we cannot trade one civil rights protection for another or vilify one of the basic foundations of this country – the freedom of religion. If this act becomes law, it will trample on deeply held religious beliefs and intrude into the operations of our churches, placing them at risk of unprecedented government overreach,” said Congressman Rogers. “This radical left-wing bill revises federal civil rights laws and proposes the elimination of protections that women have worked decades to earn in this country, forcing them to compete with an unfair biological disadvantage in sports as well,” Rogers said, claiming the bill removes the Religious Freedom Restoration Act from protecting churches and religious organizations from alleged violations of this act, forcing religious affiliated schools, hospitals, non-profits and other entities to stop offering certain services to the public or act contrary to their beliefs.
The legislation passed the House by a vote of 224-206 and now moves on to the U.S. Senate for consideration.
The Fairness Campaign applauded what it called a “landmark federal law that would protect LGBTQ Americans in virtually all areas of daily life.”
The bill would amend existing civil rights laws to explicitly ban LGBTQ discrimination in employment, housing, education, credit, jury service and other areas, and explicitly extend sex discrimination protections to public accommodations and federally-funded programs.
“Americans understand freedom to mean everyone should be able to live, work, and play without fear of discrimination,” said Chris Hartman, Executive Director of the Fairness Campaign. “Now it’s time for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senator Rand Paul to join the American people on the right side of history.”
A recent study found one in three LGBTQ Americans facing discrimination in the previous year, including three in five transgender Americans. Currently, half of LGBTQ people live in the 29 states that still lack comprehensive statewide laws, while opponents of equality continue to file discriminatory legislation aimed at eroding existing protections for LGBTQ people and their families.
Twenty Kentucky communities have passed local Fairness Ordinances, which extend the same discrimination protections as the Equality Act. Statewide Fairness Laws filed in the Kentucky General Assembly would extend similar LGBTQ discrimination protections across the commonwealth.