US House passes legislation protecting LGBT rights

The US House of Representatives has passed sweeping legislation that prohibits LGBT discrimination, but it faces an unlikely future in the Senate.

The Equality Act was previously passed by the Democratic-led House in 2019, but was killed by Senate Republicans.

The debate has laid bare the ideological battle between liberals who support the act and conservatives who say it infringes on religious freedom.

The act expands on a 2020 Supreme Court ruling protecting some LGBT rights.

What does the act do?

The Equality Act expands on the 1964 Civil Rights Act to include protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

But what does that actually mean?

  • The act provides non-discrimination protections for LGBT people
  • It would extend into all areas of life, including employment, housing, credit, jury service, and public services
  • It makes existing state protections federal and consistent across the nation

The act would also federally codify into law the 2020 June Supreme Court ruling that said employers who fire workers for being gay or transgender are violating civil rights law.

Advocates for the act have argued that the current “patchwork” of state anti-discrimination laws does not provide enough comprehensive protection, and leaves many LGBT individuals at risk.

“The patchwork nature of current laws leaves millions of people subject to uncertainty and potential discrimination that impacts their safety, their families, and their day-to-day lives,” the Human Rights Campaign said in a statement.

Passing the act was one of President Joe Biden’s campaign promises and he has said he would sign it into law immediately should it pass Congress.

Who opposed the bill?

Nearly all House Republicans said the bill infringed on their religious freedom and voted against it.

Before the vote, the conservative Heritage Foundation think tank said the act “would make mainstream beliefs about marriage, biological facts about sex differences, and many sincerely held beliefs punishable under the law”.

It also argued the bill would give transgender athletes “an obvious unfair advantage” by permitting them to compete in sports against women, a claim often echoed by Republican lawmakers.

Republican congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene – one of the fiercest opponents of the bill – tried to halt passage of the legislation on the House floor.

She also caused a stir by putting up an anti-trans sign outside her office in response to the trans pride flag across the hall, put up by Democratic congresswoman Marie Newman.

The row resulted in a backlash from lawmakers, with Republican Adam Kinzinger noting Ms Newman’s “daughter is transgender, and this video and tweet represents the hate and fame driven politics of self-promotion at all evil costs”.

Who supported the bill?

The Democratic-controlled lower chamber passed the bill on Thursday with the support of three Republicans – Tom Reed and John Katko from New York, and Pennsylvania’s Brian Fitzpatrick.

The bill had universal support among Democrats.

The US Congress currently has a record 11 lawmakers who are LGBT, all of whom are Democrats and roughly represent 2% of each chamber.

David Cicilline, who introduced the legislation in 2019 and reintroduced it again this year, says the protections it affords are “long overdue”.

It also comes as a new Gallup poll showed 5.6% of US adults now identify as LGBT.

The increase in self-identification comes at a time when the vast majority of Americans have indicated they are supportive of equal rights for LGBT people.

The passage of the act in the House also coincides with the consideration of Dr Rachel Levine to serve as the assistant health secretary, which would make Dr Levine the highest-ranking transgender person in the US government.

Will it pass the Senate?

Next, the bill goes to the Senate. If they pass it, it will go to President Biden’s desk to be signed into law.

However, as it needs 60 votes in order to bypass procedural obstacles, it is unlikely to move past the upper chamber.

So far, no Senate Republicans – who hold 50 of the 100 seats – have said they will vote for the bill.

Mitt Romney, who is among the more moderate Republican senators, said he would not vote for the bill because it lacks “strong religious liberty protections”.

BBC