Sweeping federal nondiscrimination bill introduced in Congress

Posted on 23 Jul 2015 at 12:18pm
Out Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I.

Out Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I.

A sweeping federal nondiscrimination bill protecting LGBT people was introduced in Congress today, earning praise from some of the nation’s leading LGBT advocacy organizations and allies.

The Equality Act, sponsored by out Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., and Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., would amend federal laws to include protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, education, public accommodations, credit, jury service, federal funding, renting and home ownership.

“You can be married on Saturday, post your wedding pictures on Facebook on Sunday and be fired from your job or kicked out of your apartment on Monday,” Cicilline said in a statement.

Currently only 19 states and the District of Columbia have clear LGBT nondiscrimination protections in employment and housing. Texas is among the states without any statewide protections.

Previous attempts to pass a narrower bill, the Employment Nondiscrimination Act barring employment nondiscrimination based on social orientation and gender identity, have failed. In 2013, a bill with sweeping religious exemptions passed before losing the support of key LGBT groups.

Following the Supreme Court’s June decision constitutionalizing marriage equality, LGBT advocates announced a push for nationwide nondiscrimination laws. The Equality Act is the first attempt to address national activists’ latest push for equality.

“As a gay woman myself, I know the importance of ensuring that there are comprehensive federal nondiscrimination protections in place,” American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten said in a statement. “In the absence of these protections, same-sex couples who now have the right to marry in their home states will still be at risk of being fired from their jobs or evicted from their apartments without cause.”

Yesterday, Ted Olson and David Boies, the legal team that represented the plaintiffs in Hollingsworth v. Perry case challenging California’s same-sex marriage ban, voiced support for a comprehensive federal LGBT non-discrimination law.

The bill is also one of the latest pushes to include gender identity as a protected class.

“This is a historic moment for transgender people,” said Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality in a statement. “This bill is especially important as it comes on the heels of unprecedented public attention on trans lives. Despite that, trans people have faced record rates of violence — just this week, we learned of the 10th trans woman of color murdered in 2015. For trans people, equality is a matter of life and death. Congress must understand this urgency as they work toward passing this landmark legislation.”

The bill faces an uncertain fate in an increasingly conservative Republican-controlled Congress.

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