Merkley, Cicilline Reintroduce Equality Act to Protect LGBTQ Americans

Sen. Jeff Merkley, D. Ore., and Rep. David Cicilline, D. R.I., on Tuesday reintroduced the Equality Act, which would provide nationwide protections against discrimination in housing, credit, education, employment, and public accommodations for LGBTQ people. The bill was first introduced in July 2015 and was included in The Leadership Conference’s list of 2016 legislative priorities.

“We welcome the introduction of the Equality Act, which would provide comprehensive civil rights protections to the LGBTQ community,” said Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference. “It is shameful that LGBTQ Americans in many parts of the country remain vulnerable to discrimination in housing, credit, education, employment, and public accommodations. The Leadership Conference stands ready to work with Congress to pass long-overdue federal protections that help ensure equal opportunity and dignity for all LGBTQ Americans.”

According to the Human Rights Campaign, 31 states don’t have inclusive nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people, and half of LGBTQ Americans reside in states lacking these protections.

Under the Obama administration, some federal agencies began interpreting Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as prohibiting discrimination against some or all LGBTQ people, including the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the U.S. Department of Justice, and the U.S. Department of Labor. President Obama took executive action to protect LGBTQ federal workers and contractors, but President Trump has taken action that advocates say rollback those protections.

Last month, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit ruled that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act bars workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation – making it the first full federal appeals court to reach that conclusion. “For many years, the courts of appeals of this country understood the prohibition against sex discrimination to exclude discrimination on the basis of a person’s sexual orientation. The Supreme Court, however, has never spoken to that question,” the opinion states. “In this case, we have been asked to take a fresh look at our position in light of developments at the Supreme Court extending over two decades. We have done so, and we conclude today that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is a form of sex discrimination.”

The issue will likely – eventually – be resolved by the U.S. Supreme Court.

While congressional Democrats are advocating for equal rights for LGBTQ people, some Republicans are pushing for the First Amendment Defense Act, which would legalize state-sanctioned discrimination. Republicans on the House Oversight Committee held a hearing on the bill last year, exactly one month after the Orlando massacre.