On March 13, House and Senate Democrats introduced H.R. 5, the Equality Act, a proposal to expand protections in the 1964 Civil Rights Act to people based on their sex, sexual preference or gender identity.
The sponsor of the bill, Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), who is openly gay, said conservatives would "use fear” to stop the legislation and asserted, “we cannot allow claims of religious freedom to be used to discriminate against an LGBT individual.”
At a Capitol Hill press conference alongside House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Cicilline said, “We know that in the weeks ahead conservatives will do everything they can to kill this bill and block progress once again.”
“They’ll make outrageous claims because they know they can only succeed by scaring the American people,” he said. “They’ll claim religion as a basis to discriminate – they use fear because they can’t win the debate on the merits.”
The bill states that it is designed “to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex, gender identity, and sexual orientation, and for other purposes.”
It further says, “Individuals who are LGBT, or are perceived to be LGBT, have been subjected to a history and pattern of persistent, widespread, and pervasive discrimination on the bases of sexual orientation and gender identity by both private sector and Federal, State, and local government actors, including in employment, housing, and public accommodations, and in programs and activities receiving Federal financial assistance.
“An explicit and comprehensive national solution is needed to address such discrimination, including the full range of remedies available under the Civil Rights Act of 1964.”
Commenting further, Rep. Cicilline said, “We cannot allow claims of religious freedom to be used to discriminate against an LGBT individual. Today in public law, you can’t use religious freedom to discriminate against a biracial couple, a Jew, or a woman, for example. The same must be true when it comes to sexual orientation or gender identity.”
If it eventually becomes law, the Equality Act would extend protections in areas such as public accommodations, employment, jury service, housing, credit, federal programs, and education to LGBT individuals. Democrats previously introduced the legislation in 2015 and 2017, with the initiative dying in committee both times.
Cicilline called upon lawmakers to pass the bill to protect LGBT individuals against discrimination.
“In most states in this country, a gay couple can be married on Saturday, post their wedding photos to Instagram on Sunday, and lose their jobs or get kicked out of their apartments on Monday just because of who they are. This is wrong,” he said.