The Democrat-controlled U.S. House of Representatives passed the Equality Act Friday afternoon, hotly-debated legislation seeking to codify LGBT non-discrimination protections into federal law.
H.R. 5 passed by a vote of 236-173. The bill would expand the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to also ban discrimination on the basis of “sexual orientation, gender identity, pregnancy, childbirth, or a related medical condition” in housing, public accommodations and hiring.
The bill was first introduced in 2015 but never passed in the Republican-controlled House. However, it is unlikely to be voted on in the Republican-controlled Senate.
But LGBT advocates and supporters consider the bill’s passage in the House historic and a sign of progress because it is the first time a comprehensive LGBT civil rights bill has come to the floor in Congress.
“To bring our nation closer to the founding promise of liberty and justice for all, we, today, pass the Equality Act and finally, fully end discrimination against LGBTQ Americans,” Democrat Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California said on the House floor.
“LGBTQ people deserve full civil rights protections in the workplace, in every place — in education, housing, credit, jury duty, service and public accommodations. No one should be forced to lose his or her job, their home or to live in fear because of who they are and whom they love.”
Christian conservatives and religious freedom advocates have voiced strong opposition to the bill in fear it could encumber religious freedom for communities and organizations that uphold traditional teaching on issues like marriage, abortion and sexuality.
“Americans are becoming more tolerant every day, which is why the Equality Act is so counterproductive,” Utah Republican Mike Lee wrote in a tweet. “It unnecessarily pits communities against each other and divides our nation when patience and understanding are so sorely needed.”
With the vote along party lines, Idaho Republican Rep. Russ Fulcher announced in a video Friday that he was voting against the bill and questioned if his Democrat colleagues even read the legislation before voting in favor of it.
“I don’t think they read it. I don’t think they really understand what is in it because women’s rights get eliminated,” Fulcher said.
Fulcher argued that the bill would “erase gender from federal law.”
“For example, if I were a male inmate at a penitentiary and I identified as a woman that day, I could demand to be incarcerated on the female side of the penitentiary. If I were a male athlete and I wanted to be placed in the women’s draw, I could identify as a woman,” he said. “School curriculum: it could be mandated to have transgender training. Adoption agencies could be mandated that only certain people can adopt children. The list goes on. The traditional families get eroded and religious freedom is no more because religions identify gender.”
Critics have expressed concern that the Equality Act opens the door for more potential legal battles spawned by the intersection of LGBT rights and First Amendment rights of religious conservatives who feel homosexuality and transgender identity is unbiblical.
In response to the House vote, lawyer Kristen Waggoner, who successfully defended Christian baker Jack Phillips at the U.S. Supreme Court last year for his refusal to bake a custom cake for a gay wedding, argued that the Equality Act fails to respect “constitutionally guaranteed freedoms.”
“It undermines women’s equality by denying female athletes fair competition in sports, depriving women of business opportunities designed for them, and forcing them to share private, intimate spaces with men who identify as female,” Waggoner, an attorney for the Alliance Defending Freedom, said in a statement.
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SOURCE: Christian Post, Samuel Smith