The White House endorsed legislation Tuesday that would amend the 1964 Civil Rights Act to ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
White House press secretary Josh Earnest said the Obama administration had been reviewing the bill “for several weeks.”
“Upon that review it is now clear that the administration strongly supports the Equality Act,” he said. “That bill is historic legislation that would advance the cause of equality for millions of Americans.
“We look forward to working with Congress to ensure that the legislative process produces a result that balances both the bedrock principles of civil rights . . . with the religious liberty that we hold dear in this country,” Earnest added.
Although there is little chance that this Congress will approve the legislation — which was introduced in July by Democratic Sens. Jeff Merkley (Ore.), Tammy Baldwin (Wis.) and Cory Booker (N.J.), and Rep. David N. Cicilline (D-R.I.) — President Obama’s support elevates the question of whether lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans need greater legal safeguards. Last week, Houston voters rejected an ordinance that would have barred discrimination against gay and transgender people after opponents said it would allow men disguised as women to enter women’s restrooms.
The White House’s endorsement of the Equality Act came on the same day that Obama became the first sitting U.S. president to be featured on the cover of an LGBT publication, after he was named Out magazine’s “Ally of the Year” for 2015.
In the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision in June to legalize same-sex marriage, activists have been pressing for expanded protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity beyond employment discrimination, which had been the focus of past legislation. A bill that would have banned workplace discrimination passed the Senate with bipartisan support in 2013 but did not advance in the House.
With Republicans now in control of both chambers of Congress, there is little chance that the Equality Act, which has the support of 37 Democrats and two independents in the Senate and 170 Democrats in the House, will become law before Obama leaves office.
Still, the decision by the nation’s first African American president to back the measure is significant. Some leading civil rights groups — including the NAACP and the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights — have been slow to endorse the legislation.
Although those groups support the idea of a broad LGBT anti-discrimination bill, they have been skeptical about reopening the landmark 1964 law for revisions.
Wade Henderson, president of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, said in an interview that the civil rights community has “supported the concept of the Equality Act from its very inception.”
“It recognizes, however, there are questions that could benefit from further analysis,” he added. “Before it moves forward, there’s hope that those can be addressed.”
Source: The Washington Post | Juliet Eilperin