The Equality Act and its Implications: What are the people saying about it?
The Equality Act is the bill that prohibits discrimination against people based on their sexual orientation and gender identity. This is the bill that President Biden announced during his campaign trail that he would prioritize for his first 100 days of presidency.
When the bill was first introduced, Biden displayed his support, saying “I urge Congress to swiftly pass this historic legislation,” he wrote. “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.”
However, despite the broad support among the Democrats, the Equality Act is a controversial topic for the Republicans.
What can the Equality Act do?
The Equality Act amends the 1964 Civil Rights Act and prohibits discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation.
This is not the first time that this particular bill has been introduced. In fact, it was brought to attention several times and has even passed the house in 2019. But, the difference is the law’s current impact now compared to years ago.
This is due to the ruling in Bostock v. Clayton County in June 2020 where the Supreme Court ruled that the protections in the 1964 Civil Rights Act also continue to advocate discrimination against lesbian, gay, and transgender Americans.
One prime situation for this would be a man losing his job because he is involved in a same-sex relationship. Unlike if he were a woman, he wouldn’t need to face such an experience. This is discrimination on the basis of sex.
Discrimination is covered in the Civil Rights Act, but only within certain areas such as employment and housing. The Equality Act, on the other hand, expands the bill to cover federally-funded programs and public accommodations, an extensive category that includes retail stores and stadiums.
The cherry on top of the Equality Act is that it affects various types of businesses, like flower shops and bakeries that have been the middle point of discrimination in recent court cases, like the case of a baker who refuses to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding.
The bill also notes that it rules over the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), a law passed in 1995, that defends laws if people were to argue that those laws breach religious freedom. With the Equality Act, a person couldn’t use RFRA or use the RDRA as a defense.
The Supporters’ Claims
Those in favor of the Equality Act say that the act merely extends basic tenets of the Civil Rights Acts to the group of individuals that it previously doesn’t protect.
“Just as [a business] would not be able to turn away somebody for any other prohibited reason in the law, they would not be able to do that for LGBTQ people either. And we think that’s a really important principle to maintain,” said Ian Thompson, senior legislative representative at the ACLU.
Another upshot of the bill is that it is considered national, which means that it will be covering states that don’t have LGBTQ anti-discrimination laws. According to an LGBTQ advocacy organization, the Human Rights Campaign, 27 states don’t have these laws.
“President Biden issued an executive order directing agencies to appropriately interpret the Bostock ruling to apply not just to employment discrimination, but to other areas of law where sex discrimination is prohibited, including education, housing, and health care,” the Human Rights Campaign wrote in support of the bill. “However, a future administration may refuse to interpret the law this way, leaving these protections vulnerable.”
The Opponents’ Claims
The main reason why there are individuals against the Equality Act is that religious freedom is being questioned.
Douglas Laycock, a law professor at the University of Virginia, has strongly disagreed with Equality Act since its introduction in 2019. In an email, he told NPR that the law is “less necessary”, especially after the decision on the Bostock case.
Laycock cleared that he supports adding gender identity and sexual orientation to federal anti-discrimination laws.
“It protects the rights of one side, but attempts to destroy the rights of the other side,” he said. “We ought to protect the liberty of both sides to live their own lives by their own identities and their own values.”
Those who are on the opposing side also fear that the bill would threaten businesses and organizations that have objections on serving LGBTQ members. The bill forcing them to pick between business operations or following their religious beliefs.
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