On February 25, 2021, the House of Representatives passed the Equality Act with a final vote of 224-206.
The Equality Act aims to amend the 1964 Civil Rights Act to include a ban on discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, housing, and other services, including public accommodations such as restaurants, retail stores, and stadiums. This act would be national, involving all states, including those that do not already have LGBTQ anti-discrimination laws.
In 2019, the House first passed the Equality Act but was later blocked by the Senate. Now, with President Biden’s support, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer stated his intentions of bringing the legislation to the floor of the Senate, where it is unclear whether it will have the same outcome.
The implication of the Equality Act would be different now than it would when it passed in the House in 2019, because of the recent Supreme Court ruling in Bostock v. Clayton County.
The Bostock ruling extended employment protections of sex discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, in which the Supreme Court held that an employer is barred from discriminating against employees based on their sexual orientation or sexual identity. The Supreme Court reasoned that protections provided by Title VII under the 1964 Civil Rights Act on the basis of the term “sex” also covered discrimination against sexual orientation and identity. The Equality Act would explicitly cement these nondiscriminatory protections into law, rather than leaving it up to interpretation of the term “sex” under the Civil Rights Act.
Additionally, the bill as written states that it overrides the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (“RFRA”), a law passed in 1993 that sets a higher standard for the government to uphold a law if an individual or entity claim it infringes on their religious freedom. While RFRA was deemed unconstitutional by the United States Supreme Court, it continues to be applied to the federal government. For example, the Equality Act would impact a business or entity’s ability to discriminate against customers and use RFRA as a defense to a claim of discrimination.
Transgender athletes have recently been fighting against legislation hindering their ability to participate due to their gender identity, but the Equality Act that states an individual cannot be denied access to a restroom, locker room, dressing room, or participation on a team based on their gender identity.
The Equality Act provides anti-discrimination protections on a national scale for the LGBTQ community in areas such as, housing, employment, education, public spaces and services, federally funded programs, credit, jury service, and others. The bill now goes to the Senate for approval.