Photography by Ryan Pfluger
President Obama's spokesman today announced he is endorsing the Equality Act, BuzzFeed's Chris Geidner reported.
"The administration strongly supports the Equality Act," said Press Secretary Josh Earnest at today's afternoon White House press briefing.
The Equality Act would amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and other federal laws to protect LGBT Americans from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. But Republicans, who currently control of both House and Senate are unlikely to pass this bill.
“The unfortunate reality is that, while LGBT Americans can legally get married, millions remain at risk of being fired or denied services for who they are or who they love because the majority of states still lack explicit, comprehensive non-discrimination protections,” said Human Rights Campaign president Chad Griffin in a statement today. “By endorsing the Equality Act, the White House sent a strong message that it’s time to put the politics of discrimination behind us once and for all. Now it’s time for Congress to act. Everyone should be able to live free from fear of discrimination and have a fair chance to earn a living and provide for their families, including people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender.”
Democrats Jeff Merkley of Oregon, out Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin and Cory Booker of New Jersey are the lead sponsors in the Senate; David Cicilline of Rhode Island, also a Democrat, is the lead sponsor in the House.
The Equality Act would include protections in public accommodations, public education, employment, housing, federal funding, jury service, legal protections, and credit. The bill would also clarify that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act cannot be used to defend discrimination against LGBT people.
The proposed legislation also clarifies that sex-segregated facilities must admit individuals in accordance with their gender identity, explicitly noting that anyone discriminated against because of their perceived sexual orientation or gender identity or association with a protected class is protected themselves.
The Equality Act was first announced by Merkley in December. The codirectors of GetEQUAL, Heather Cronk and Angela Peoples, wrote in an Advocate op-ed earlier this year that they saw the legislation as “dangerous,” fearing right-wing lawmakers would not only strip the bill of its intended protections with amendments, but also gut the civil rights laws being amended.
The Equality Act would make sweeping changes to federal civil rights law. One of the most notable, and likely controversial, sections would expand the list of businesses listed as public accommodations to include banks, retail stores, and companies that provide transportation and health care services — covering nearly every business that provides goods or services to the public.
Republicans in Congress have been rushing to the defense of businesses like florists and bakers that have refused to provide services for same-sex couples getting married. They argue that the religious freedom of the business owners is being violated by forcing them to serve all members of the public equally, and have introduced federal legislation that would allow them to discriminate, called the First Amendment Defense Act. Similar laws in Indiana and Arkansas have drawn fire in the past year as opponents characterized it as legalized discrimination against LGBT people.
The Equality Act would also amend Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to include employment protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Religious beliefs, race, sex, color, and national origin are already protected characteristics. The bill would not change existing religious exemptions for religious corporations, schools, and associations to make hiring decisions based on religious beliefs if the employee will be performing work connected with their religious activities.
The Equality Act would pertain to any public or private businesses with more than 15 employees, as well as labor organizations. This is the same standard currently in place in the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The bill would also update the Government Employees Rights Act of 1991 and the Civil Service Reform Act to include sexual orientation and gender identity protections for federal and District of Columbia government employees.
Other areas covered in the sweeping legislation include nondiscrimination protections for those seeking child welfare, public education, student loans, healthcare or nutrition assistance. LGBT people would also be protected from discrimination in any aspect of purchasing or renting a house.
The Equal Credit Opportunity Act and the Jury Service and Selection Act would also be amended to include sexual orientation and gender identity protections and would update the terms "husband" and "wife" to the more inclusive designation of "spouse."
The magazine pointed to the significance of his evolution on LGBT issues. On May 9, 2012, Obama told out anchor Robin Roberts of ABC's Good Morning America he supported marriage equality: "It is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married."
As Out Editor Aaron Hicklin noted, Obama's "late hour conversion" was a key moment in setting the stage for the Supreme Court ruling on June 26 this year that made it unconstitutional to deny same-sex couples the right to wed.
The president noted "decades of our brothers and sisters fighting for recognition and equality” and, according to Out, "his administration's support helped tip the balance, and it put our elected leader on the right side of justice."