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

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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