WASHINGTON – U.S. House lawmakers on Friday voted to approve sweeping legislation aimed at barring discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, in spite of broad opposition from House Republicans.
In a major victory for LGBTQ rights advocates, the House approved the bill, dubbed the Equality Act, by a vote of 236-173, including eight Republican votes. Among the Arizona delegation, all five Democrats voted for the bill and all four Republicans voted against it.
The measure would amend the 1964 Civil Rights Act by explicitly banning discrimination based on sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity in education, employment, housing, credit and the jury system.
House Democrats celebrated the bill’s passage as a landmark achievement by Congress.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said the legislation will “ensure that all people in this country, no matter where they live are protected against hate and bigotry, exclusion and discrimination. The opportunities this country offers must be open to everyone in our country.”
Rep. Greg Stanton (D-Ariz.) praised the legislation as a necessary next step to ensure equality.
“Following a landmark Supreme Court ruling that legalized gay marriage in all 50 states, the hard truth is that discrimination based on sexual orientation is still permitted under the law. LGBTQ individuals face this reality every day, that they may receive different, unfair treatment in employment, housing, public accommodation, public education and more,” he said.
“We are better than that.”
Currently, fewer than half of the U.S. states have enacted their own laws that explicitly prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, according to the Movement Advancement Project, a nonprofit think tank.
Despite the fanfare in the House, the effort is unlikely to be enacted into law this Congress. The Senate companion version has one Republican co-sponsor, Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, but is unlikely to garner broad GOP support in that chamber. And the administration opposes the effort.
“The Trump administration absolutely opposes discrimination of any kind and supports the equal treatment of all,” an administration official told NBC News. “However, this bill in its current form is filled with poison pills that threaten to undermine parental and conscience rights.”
House Republicans assailed the effort, warning that Democrats don’t understand the reach of the bill.
Rep. Debbie Lesko (R-Ariz.) said that the bill would “erase women and girls’ rights by requiring facilities such as schools, churches, dormitories, domestic violence shelters, homeless shelters to allow biological males who identify as women in women’s bathrooms, women’s and girls’ shelters, women’s and girls’ showers and in women’s locker rooms.”
Democrats accused their GOP colleagues of playing up fears about the bill as a distraction.
At a hearing about the legislation in April, openly transgender witness Carter Brown, who leads an organization called Black Transmen Inc., said lawmakers had discussed “transgender people as a threat, in the bathroom, in sports,” Time reported.
Brown added, “My identity is not a threat to anyone else.” Without explicit federal protections to protect LGBTQ people, “it’s a threat to me and my ability to provide for myself and my family.”