US: House passes Equality Act


[USA] The House of Representatives has passed the Equality Act by a massive majority today – the first time a chamber of the U.S. Congress has approved a comprehensive LGBTQ civil rights bill.

If enacted, the law would provide comprehensive non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people across the country in employment, housing, public spaces, education, jury services, credit and federal funding: measures that we take for granted here largely thanks to European rulings over the past twenty years.

But the law can’t be enacted unless and until it also has the backing of the Senate – kind of like how a law has to pass through both the House of Commons and the House of Lords here.  And then it needs the President to sign it into law…

“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 Chad Griffin, who is president of the Human Rights Campaign – America’s counterpart to Stonewall here in Britain.

“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.

Chad continued – perhaps reflecting that the majority-Republican chamber will be more of a challenge than the Democrat-controlled House: “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.”

Today’s vote was won by 263 votes to 173, with eight Republicans and 228 Democrats on the side of the act.

It reflects how much more party-polarised LGB rights issues are in the US at present, as the UK’s debates on same-sex marriage in 2013 saw support from Liberal Democrat and Labour benches in a similar way to that shown by the Democrats today; but where the US Republicans vote strongly against equality, the UK’s Conservatives were split almost right down the middle.

The Equality Act was first introduced in Congress in July 2015, and in its current form was 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. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) prioritized passage of the legislation, which now heads to the U.S. Senate.