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The House of Representatives on Thursday narrowly passed the Equality Act, sweeping legislation that would expand U.S. anti-discrimination laws to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual preference or self-proclaimed gender identity. Supporters say the bill will establish basic legal protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer Americans nationwide that will establish equal justice and fairness for all Americans. Opponents warn that the language of the bill would make mainstream traditional beliefs about marriage, biological facts about sex differences, and religious convictions on these issues punishable under the law.
The Equality Act passed on a nearly party-line vote, 224 to 206, with every Democrat and three Republicans voting in favor of the bill. A previous version of the bill passed the Democrat-controlled House in 2019 but did not advance in the Senate. The bill would amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and other civil rights laws to add explicit language including sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes under federal law.
"In most states, L.G.B.T.Q. people can be discriminated against because of who they are, or who they love," Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), the bill's sponsor in the House, who is gay, said, according to the New York Times. "It is past time for that to change."
The bill is a priority for President Joe Biden, who promised to champion the legislation during the first 100 days of his presidency. This version that passed the House Thursday is not expected to win enough support in the Senate to pass and be signed into law by President Biden unless Democrats take the drastic measure of eliminating the filibuster to bypass Republican opposition and pass the bill with a simple majority.
Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) is the only Senate Republican who expressed support for the 2019 bill, but she told the Washington Blade on Feb. 23 that she does not support the current version because it lacks certain revisions she requested. Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) has also expressed opposition to the bill, citing the need for "strong religious liberty protections."
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