Democrats to push sweeping LGBT rights bill this week

Yesterday, Buzzfeed reported that Democrats in the House and Senate are set to introduce legislation this week that will, for all intents and purposes, cover LGBT citizens under the same protections afforded to racial minorities and women under the Civil Rights Act.

The bill would provide explicit protections for sexual orientation and gender identity across seven categories, ranging from employment to housing to education to public accommodations. As Buzzfeed explained:

People who are credit worthy could not be refused loans, leases, or credit cards for being LGBT; public education institutions that receive federal money could not discriminate against LGBT students; otherwise qualified employees and job applicants could not be discriminated against in hiring, promotion, or firing; LGBT renters and home buyers could not be discriminated against in leasing or purchasing homes, securing home loans, or using brokerage services; people could not be held off of juries or denied federal funding for being LGBT; and finally, people could not be refused services in places of public accommodation, from hotels to stores, based on a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

Rainbow flag, via Wikimedia Commons

Rainbow flag, via Wikimedia Commons

The bill, simply titled the Equality Act, will certainly face an uphill battle in the Republican-controlled Congress, as it is far broader than ENDA, which has consistently failed to make it through both houses. Congress has voted four times this year in favor of LGBT rights, but none of the bills have garnered the necessary 60 votes in the Senate. However, the Equality Act will at the very least force the GOP to go on record saying that they are, literally, against equality; in the workplace, in education, in schools, in public spaces and so on.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission already ruled recently that employment discrimination is already illegal — a ruling that directly applies to federal employers and guides lower courts on discrimination claims in the private sector.

As Representative David Cicilline (D – RI) wrote in a letter to colleagues requesting co-sponsors for his bill:

In most states, a same-sex couple can get married on Saturday, post pictures on Facebook on Sunday, and then risk being fired from their job or kicked out of their apartment on Monday. A majority of states in our country do not have laws that protect LGBT individuals against discrimination.

We need a uniform federal standard that protects all LGBT Americans from
discrimination.

As Buzzfeed noted, the part of the bill conservatives are most likely to push back against is the provision prohibiting discrimination in places of public accommodation — i.e. businesses such as pizzerias, bakeries and flower shops that religious owners have claimed do not have to sell their products to people who they know will use them for a same-sex wedding.

Of course, this is bunk. Selling a cake that you know will be eaten at a wedding doesn’t mean you have participated in or otherwise approved of that wedding, contra religious freedom revisionaries who claim that they can reserve the right to refuse service to anyone who they feel is morally objectionable as a person.

The push for the Equality Act comes as Republicans are shepherding the First Amendment Defense Act through Congress — a bill that would prohibit the government from revoking the tax exempt status or other benefits from organizations that officially adopt a policy of marriage being between one man and one woman. This is, of course, literally the opposite of what the First Amendment says Congress is supposed to do, but don’t tell that to the folks who read (or didn’t read, we don’t know) “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion” and heard “Congress shall make many laws respecting an establishment of religion.”

What’s more, public opinion is against them, and for the Democrats, with respect to these two bills. An April poll found that 69 percent of Americans — including 51 percent of Republicans — think there should be a federal law prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity (many Americans mistakenly think much of this discrimination is already illegal). Another poll, also from April, found that 54 percent of Americans thought that businesses shouldn’t be allowed to deny their services to LGBT people, compared to only 28 percent who said that such a denial should be protected as religious freedom.

But of course, it doesn’t matter what the public thinks. At least not directly. Right now, what matters is that 41 Republican senators are standing in between the LGBT community and full civil rights protections.


Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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  • ammy.toilor

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  • Maziever
  • W did fairly well with Hispanic voters in Texas and nationally. He even did the weekly radio address in English and Spanish. (Said one commentator, it’s not that his Spanish is great but no president before had even bothered to try.) He understood that there was no future for the GOP without appealing to a good portion of Hispanic voters. I read the other day that party insiders are well aware that they can’t get the WH without at least 40% of the Hispanic vote. Even though Trump won’t be the nominee, since none of the other candidates really countered him on that they’re all screwed with them. This isn’t the 70s when you could do what Nixon always said and run to the right in the primaries and back to the center in the general. Youtube and bloggers made that impossible. Policians used to get away with saying one thing in Iowa and the opposite in NH. You just can’t get away with that any more. Nor can you pretend like something from six months ago didn’t happen. Someone can easily put clips of what you said then vs now together and the video could go viral. it’s a new media world and politicians mostly haven’t learned that yet.

  • FLL

    I teach English as a Second Language here in South Florida, and the Latin American students absolutely flipped out over Donald Trump. They couldn’t get over what a creep he’s been. There were students who actually did speech presentations about how awful Donald Trump is. If the Republicans make history by losing 30 votes in the House in 2016, thanks will probably go to Donald Trump.

  • Democrats took back the House in 2006 and held it for four years. It is possible but it would take a landslide election like 1964 or 1984 in order for that to happen. That’s possible, especially if the Republicans keep on this trajectory of alienating every possible voter.

  • And you’re right that I should give far more credit to Levin and Murphy.

    What’s amazing about the DADT repeal is what a nonstory it has been ever since. Even Fox can’t drum up any horror stories about the repeal’s effects on the troops. Because there’s not any. According to a relative in the service everyone already knew who was gay. Most guys aren’t all that out anyway and it’s just not a big deal. Part of that is a generational shift. He also knew gay people in HS so it was no big to know gay people in his unit. I think marriage will be the same once they stop finding people not wanting to take our money. seriously, who turns down paying customers? There’s just not going to be that many of them which is why they keep rehashing the same story over and over again. Most florists and photographers and bakers are eager for that business. In fact an acquaintance of mine who does some wedding planning has been trying to figure out how to get more gay weddings without attracting too much attention from haters. That’s the real line that these businesses have to walk: advertising to gay couples without creating a backlash from the right wing nutjobs.

  • Bill_Perdue

    It could be useful in murders of young, trans people of color, a still common enough occurrence but it’s too little and two late. It’s toothless.

  • FLL

    I will agree with your mention of Harry Reid. It’s true that it was not a priority for Harry Reid. I remember that clearly. But I’ll always credit the leaders of the repeal drive like Carl Levin and Patrick Murphy… and yes, yes, yes, I certainly credit both Susan Collins and GetEQUAL. It took a lot from a lot of different corners to end DADT.

  • The federal hate crimes bill was 20 years too late. It would have been useful in the 80s when it was still not unusual for people to get away with horrible crimes against gay people with the local police or even the state prosecutors doing nothing. The last such case I remember was in Dallas in 1990. That doesn’t happen now. Even in hyper-conservative Idaho Matt Shepherd’s killers were prosecuted and sentenced without any state or federal hate crimes law at the time. It was a nice gesture but frankly I’d much rather they passed a workplace and housing nondiscrimination bill with that effort.

  • I’m not excusing the Republicans. They’re not just horrible on gay rights; they’re horrible on just about every issue. My point is that DADT happened at the very last minute. It was down the wire. It was not high on Harry Reid’s priorities. I don’t think you can claim it was. We need better leadership in the Democratic party and frankly it would help if we stopped making excuses for the Democrats. Yes, they are better than the Republicans. That’s not saying much.

  • Bill_Perdue

    Collins and GETEqual. They also help push the WH concession when Obama signed the ENDA EO.

  • Bill_Perdue

    I think it was the WH, which if you remember was deep into it’s anti-gay period at the time, defending Bill Clintons DADT and DOMA in court, with particularly viole and bigoted language and following up on Obama’s ‘gawd’s in the mix’ performance in 2008 that ensured the passage of Prop 8.

    The WH, Reid and Pelosi only enacted the Hate Crimes bill after Obama and Congressional Democrats were frightened by the size and militancy of the 2009 March for Equality.

  • FLL

    It was not on the Democrats’ agenda.

    The historical record shows that Democrats Carl Levin in the Senate and Patrick Murphy in the House (along with their Democratic allies) did most of the pushing from beginning to end.

    They should all be ashamed that it took a Republican to make that happen.

    In the cloture vote to end the Republican Senate filibuster, all but one of the 58 Democrats voted yes. Susan Collins was instrumental in rounding up the five Republican votes needed put the total above 60 and end the Republican filibuster. I honestly don’t see how you can conclude from this that the Democrats have anything to be ashamed of. I would say that the vast majority of Republican senators (37 out of 42) have something to be ashamed of, especially since they mounted a filibuster. Was it the Democratic senators’ fault that it requires 60 votes to break a filibuster?

    I do not object in the least to giving Susan Collins credit for pushing the other four Republican senators sufficiently. The final score in favor of repeal is Democrats-57 and Republicans-5. Which party did you say has something to be ashamed of?

  • age discrimination is already against the law and has been for decades. Laws are meaningless if no one enforces them.

  • Hue-Man

    My proposition was a National Equality Law that trumped state and local laws and would include age discrimination unless my posited legislators carved out age as one of the permitted discriminations. (“Senator Leghorn, age 97, voted in favor of allowing employers to discriminate against employees on the basis of age.”)

    Where I live, the BC Human Rights Tribunal is a speedy (relatively) low-cost resolution for discrimination cases and its decisions are public information. At the .pdf link page 10 of 28, the Annual Report for 2013-14 (March 31 government year-end, not September 30) shows 90 cases dealt with age discrimination. By far the largest basis for a claim was disability both mental and physical. http://www.bchrt.bc.ca/shareddocs/annual_reports/2013-2014.pdf

    Law courts are a terrible way to resolve these kinds of matters – justice is neither quick nor cheap.

    And yes, I realize how impractical the concept is in the U..S. where everything is politicized and polarized. “You can always count on Americans to do the right thing – after they’ve tried everything else.” – Winston Churchill

    You can always count on Americans to do the right thing – after they’ve tried everything else.

    Winston Churchill

    You can always count on Americans to do the right thing – after they’ve tried everything else.

    Winston Churchill

    You can always count on Americans to do the right thing – after they’ve tried everything else.

    Winston Churchill

    You can always count on Americans to do the right thing – after they’ve tried everything else.

    Winston Churchill

  • Like they enforce the current laws? Plenty of states are “at-will” meaning they don’t have to give a reason for firing you. How do you prove why they fired you if they don’t have to give any reason at all? And then there’s the rampant age discrimination. Almost every online job application begins with date of birth. They say they can’t see that while in the hiring process. I call bullshit. But even if that’s true they require dates for education which means any idiot can guess your age within a year or so. They regularly screen out candidates over 40 and get away with it. And that’s in a Democratic administration. Ugh.

  • Especially for workplace nondiscrimination. In fact most people think that’s already the law. So why couldn’t we get that passed? Lack of effort plus a good deal of blundering. One day we’ll get decent leadership in Congress for the Democrats. We sure as fuck don’t have it now.

  • It’s possible that Democrats will take back the Senate in 2016. The House? Highly unlikely. There’s far too much Gerrymandering for that to happen.

  • The DADT repeal only happened because Susan Collins pushed for it. It was not on the Democrats’ agenda. They should all be ashamed that it took a Republican to make that happen.

  • I’m for Dan Savage’s rule. If you say you have (insert group) friends, you have to produce that friend. They have to show up and vouch that they are indeed your friend, otherwise bullshit and they should be hounded on that until they produce said friend or admit they are lying. It won’t happen because we don’t have anyone in the news media with a spine these days.

  • I’ve had enough of political gestures and posturing.

    Submit the Equality Act when there’s no chance in hell of it passing is a gesture. Repealing DADT is meaningful action.

    Insisting ENDA should be passed when your party controls Congress and the Executive, but failing to do so is a gesture. Directing the EEOC to issue a regulation finding that anti-LGBT discrimination is actually equal to gender discrimination, and thus illegal under existing law is meaningful action.

    Constantly insisting that DOMA should be repealed when it won’t happen (because the GOP controls the House at the time) is a gesture, especially when coupled with feckless hand-wringing about how the INS has no choice but to deport the same-sex spouses of American citizens. Directing the DOJ to take an adversarial position on the constitutionality of DOMA when the case is before the Supreme Court, coupled with issuing an executive order to slow-walk any deportations is meaningful action.

    Y’see, so very much of the time, meaningful action is entirely possible. Which is why when politicians reflexively reach for lofty-sounding initiatives so very often, my cynicism goes off the charts.

  • sane37

    Gestures can swell the tide of public opinion. I would rather it passed, but will take the gesture.
    Keep up the good fight.

  • Let’s be realistic here: The Equality Act is DEAD in the GOP-controlled Congress. Period, end of.

    It’s a nice gesture on the part of the Democrats, but in the end that’s all it is right now, a gesture.

  • docsterx

    Prepare for the thunder of GOP Congress members and presidential candidates all saying things about how many gay friends they have. Then, in the next breath, saying “But this legislation is unnecessary and is an attack on religious freedom.”

  • Indigo

    Ha!

  • FLL

    I completely agree with your comment above. Actually, when you agree with Bill Perdue’s comment below, it looks like you’re agreeing with numbers (1) and (2), but not (3)… at least that’s the conclusion I come to after reading your comment above.

  • FLL

    If Democrats only did things concerning civil rights when they have no chance of being enacted, they would never have voted for both the 2009 hate crimes bill and DADT repeal in the House and then broken the Republican Senate filibusters of both—resulting in the passage of both. Just because someone makes a claim on the Internet doesn’t mean it’s true. Always do a little fact checking. ;)

  • Bill_Perdue

    The polls have been on our side for a long time.

  • NATHAN AMAL

    Most Americans are already covered

  • NATHAN AMAL

    yes, agreed! Unfortunately, they were still waiting for the mindless masses to catch up on gay equality.

  • NATHAN AMAL

    It will be stopped by the GOP who live in eth asses of religious kooks, but in 2016 when dems control the houses and POTUS, it will happen!

  • 2karmanot

    Republicans: Noh; Democrats: Kabuki; the rest of us: Budho

  • Indigo

    Plain dress kabuki. It’d be so much more fun if they’d don Tokugawa costumes and make-up.

  • nicho

    Well, if nothing else, we get great political theater. Enjoy the show.

  • Bill_Perdue

    I. ENDA, as written before it was gutted in 2007 by Barney Frank, had more protections than the Civil Rights Acts and were widely supported by women’s groups and those representing people of color.

    2. We should be covered by the Civil right Act which should be strengthened and become a Civil Rights Amendment with teeth.

    3. Democrats only do things like this when they have no chance of being enacted. They should have done it in 2009 or 2010 but their party leadership refused.

  • Hue-Man

    Isn’t this whole approach backwards? A true Equality Act would say that 100% of Americans cannot be discriminated against in employment, rentals, services, etc. BTW, several founding documents say this (but didn’t mean it). It also removes all the questions about race and other classes of discrimination and levels of scrutiny.

    Next step is for legislators to put forward who ISN’T worthy of being treated equally. (This is already sounding un-American!). The Senator from Misogyny submits all women be discriminated against. President-elect Trump moves that all Mexicans be subject to unequal treatment. Would you as a legislator vote for ANY of these groups to be treated as lesser than?

  • Indigo

    Because keeping tax breaks is the True Meaning of religion? Oh, I see. Not surprising, somehow.

  • emjayay

    Isn’t the problem, besides homophobia in general, that right wingers insist that religious institutions, or even say a scrapbooking and macramé store with fundamentalist Christian owners, should get to discriminate all they want? And also that religious institution owned businesses (schools and colleges and Salvation Army and adoption agencies etc.) that serve the public should get lots of federal money?

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