Equality Act, LGBTQ Federal Non-Discrimination Bill, Reintroduced in Congress

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May 2, 2017

Today, Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley and Rhode Island Representative David Cicilline were joined by Democratic Leaders in the Senate and House as well as members of the bipartisan LGBTQ Equality Caucus to reintroduce the Equality Act, a bill to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity in employment, housing, credit, education and jury service. 

The measure also prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity and sex by those receiving federal funding and in public accommodations. The bill was first introduced in July 2015 during the first session of the 114th Congress.

"We applaud the reintroduction of this essential bill that provides federal non-discrimination protections on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, and spotlights the pervasive, unjust and unacceptable discrimination that continues to confront LGBTQ Americans and their families," said Jennifer C. Pizer, Senior Counsel and Director of Law and Policy for Lambda Legal, who provided technical support during preparation of the Equality Act. "When enacted, it will be a crucial next step forward in ending that discrimination."

"Less than half of states have clear statutory bans on discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in the range of settings in which everyone needs and should receive fair and equal treatment," Pizer added. "The Equality Act is an answer to this inadequate patchwork of protections because it is a broad federal statute protecting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people across the entire country and throughout their daily lives.”

The Equality Act extends protections for LGBTQ people by amending the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Congressional Accountability Act of 1995, the Civil Service Act of 1978, the Fair Housing Act, the Equal Credit Opportunity Act and title 28 chapter 121 (juries) to include sex, sexual orientation and gender identity as protected categories from discrimination or segregation for purposes of:

  • Public accommodations
  • Public facilities
  • Public funding
  • Federal funding
  • Private and public employment
  • Access to housing
  • Access to loans and credits
  • Jury selection

The bill also authorizes the Department of Justice to bring civil action when it receives claims of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, and allows the Department to step in during equal protection actions in federal court.

The bill further amends the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1995 to prevent that Act from being used to allow discrimination against anyone on the basis of sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity.

The reintroduction of the Equality Act comes just one month after the landmark decision of the full Seventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Lambda Legal’s Hively v. Ivy Tech Community College case that employment discrimination based on sexual orientation is a form of sex discrimination forbidden by Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. On its heels, the U.S. District Court in Denver applied similar reasoning in a first-of-its-kind ruling under the federal Fair Housing Act in Smith v. Avanti, another Lambda Legal case.

These rulings built on decisions of numerous federal courts and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) that the sex discrimination provisions of existing federal statutes, properly understood, protect LGBTQ people who suffer discrimination at work, in housing, at school, in doctors’ offices and in other settings because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

"To be sure, Lambda Legal has had tremendous success in persuading courts that federal laws prohibiting sex discrimination in employment, housing and credit also prohibit discrimination against LGBTQ Americans," said Sharon M. McGowan, Director of Strategy and head of Lambda Legal’s newly established D.C. office. "But as evidenced by the hundreds of phone calls we receive each year, many employers, landlords and lenders still haven’t gotten the message, and cling to the argument that federal laws prohibiting sex discrimination simply don’t cover these kinds of discrimination."

"For this reason, we call on Congress to pass the Equality Act, which will clarify once and for all that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity is illegal, and close a gaping hole in federal civil rights law by adding protections against discrimination in public accommodations and jury service," McGowan added. "We thank Senate Minority Leader Schumer (D-NY), House Minority Leader Pelosi (D-CA), Sens. Merkley (D-OR), Murray (D-WA), Baldwin (D-WI) and Booker (D-NJ), and Reps. Cicilline (D-RI), Polis (D-CO), Maloney (D-NY), Pocan (D-WI), and Takano (D-CA) for their leadership, and we urge Congress to act swiftly to pass this law to ensure full equality for the LGBTQ community."