President Obama endorses the Equality Act

After a slight delay, the Equality Act, which would amend the Civil Rights Act to expand its anti-discrimination protections to sexual orientation and gender identity, officially has the endorsement of the Obama Administration.

From the Washington Post:

Speaking to reporters, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said the administration “has been reviewing for several weeks” the bill. “It is now clear that the administration strongly supports the Equality Act,” he said, adding it would advance the civil rights of “millions of Americans.”

Earnest added the White House would “work to ensure that the legislative process produces something that balances “the bedrock principles of civil rights with the religious liberty that we hold dear in this country.”

While the bill is almost certainly not going to make it to President Obama’s desk by the end of his term, lending it his support nonetheless grants it legitimacy and puts pressure on Republicans to explain why, exactly, discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity is Actually Okay.

Especially since, according to polling conducted by the Human Rights Campaign, 64 percent of Republicans support the bill, which enjoys a 78-16 support/oppose split in the public overall.

That jives with earlier polling showing that a majority of Americans think that the kinds of discrimination the Equality Act is designed to protect against are already illegal.

In what may or may not have been a coincidence, the administration’s announcement comes on the same day that President Obama was named Ally of the Year by Out Magazine. In his interview with the magazine for its cover story, President Obama made numerous references to the basic idea behind the Equality Act: that discrimination based on who you are is bad, and American culture and public policy is heading in a direction that will extend that sentiment to LGBT people as it previously did for other historically marginalized groups. As he said:

President Obama, via Pixabay

President Obama, via Pixabay

As I said in Kenya, in a lot of ways what we’re talking about is equality under the law — that was a critical element of the civil rights movement in the United States, and that is an essential part of the struggle that LGBT people are facing around the world.

I think this is both a question of attitudes and a question of behavior. Accepting and embracing someone for who they are requires a change in attitude. And in the United States we’ve seen that change in attitude, in many hearts and minds, as more and more LGBT people are brave enough to come out and live their lives openly, and as their relatives and neighbors and co-workers realize that they know and like and love a member of the LGBT community.

The other part is behavior. Regardless of their personal views, we need to treat one another with a basic level of respect. And governments need to enforce the law, prosecute acts of violence, and protect the human rights of their citizens — all of their citizens — without discrimination.


That sounds like an endorsement of the Equality Act, even without official confirmation from his press secretary.

Although it certainly doesn’t hurt.

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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9 Responses to “President Obama endorses the Equality Act”

  1. Hue-Man says:

    U.S. has an opportunity to catch up to Ukraine!

    “Ukraine’s parliament has voted for changes to the country’s labor code that include protection against discrimination for members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community. ”

  2. BeccaM says:

    I agree with your conclusions there. Like I keep saying, endorsing a bill which will never be voted upon is an empty gesture, although I know there are many who seem to think these gestures are important or meaningful.

  3. FLL says:

    Pressure often works. See my “edit” above.

  4. BeccaM says:

    You’re correct, as I noted above, the hate crimes law has been used exactly ONCE since it was signed six years ago to prosecute an anti-gay hate crime, the Kevin Pennington case in Kentucky.

    It’s supposed to be applicable not only in states without an anti-LGBT hate crimes law (and also the other categories they grafted onto the law to eke out a few more votes, hence why it includes James Byrd Jr in the name), but also any state or locality which fails to prosecute a bias crime.

    Basically, the DoJ simply has never made enforcement a priority, and if the federal AGs never bring charges, the law is all but pointless.

  5. FLL says:

    Sounds like the decennial decisions about drawing (or gerrymandering) House districts really do have consequences. At least there’s one coming up in 2020. I’m curious about the federal hate crimes law. I think it’s only used when there is no state hate crimes law. The federal hate crimes law has been used in Kentucky in the past for that reason (although Kentucky has such a law now). It looks like there are 20 states that still have no hate crimes law that cover LGBT. A total of three instances in which the federal hate crimes law has been used looks very suspicious. That’s a legitimate complaint against the Obama administration although you’d need some state-level data to support it. This would be a good way to challenge Obama’s claim to a pro-gay-rights legacy.

  6. BeccaM says:

    Yes, it’s called the “privileged resolution.” However, except in rare occasions, when proposed by the minority party these almost always fail because someone in the majority simply files a motion to table or to refer the matter to committee for ‘study’ (aka sent to the boneyard to die) or they have a pro-forma procedural vote where, again, the majority party says no.

    ENDA or the Equality Act is just not going to happen anytime soon, hence why these pointless gestures never fail to annoy me.

  7. FLL says:

    You’re right. Unless there’s a way to strong-arm Paul Ryan, there won’t be an opportunity to pass civil rights legislation through the House of Representatives until probably 2020. Does anyone know how to force Paul Ryan to allow a floor vote in the House? His gym trainer? His yoga instructor? :P

  8. Indigo says:

    It’s safe to endorse it, it isn’t going anywhere so enforcement is a moot point. Besides, the WH needs a distractor to keep us happy so we don’t get too vocal about the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Negotiations are done, it’s ready to roll through Congress.


  9. BeccaM says:

    Funny how we always get these endorsements when there’s zero chance of the legislation being voted on. Yet when ENDA was actually up for a vote in 2009 and within just a few House members short of passing (it had over 200 House co-sponsors), Obama couldn’t be bothered.

    I’d have been much more encouraged if Obama had announced he was directing the DoJ to much more vigorously enforce the Matthew Shepard & James Byrd Jr Hate Crimes law, which has been — according to what I could find online — used to prosecute a crime only three times since it was signed into law in 2009. There were two cases in 2011 and one in 2012, and of these only one — Kevin Pennington’s attackers in Kentucky — was for a LGBT-bias crime.

    We were assured it was a huge deal to have hate crimes law like this passed, but it’s meaningless without enforcement. There has been no shortage of bias crimes which haven’t been prosecuted as such by the states or local authorities in the last six years.

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