The Washington Times Weekly
Democrats dismiss concerns, add LGBTQ rights to 1964 act
House Democrats passed the Equality Act, taking their cues from President Biden as he pushes transgender rights to the forefront over warnings of dire repercussions for religious freedom, women’s sports and female privacy.
The bill, which would add sex, gender identity and sexual orientation to the 1964 Civil Rights Act, was approved 224-206, with three Republicans voting in favor of the measure, a drop from the eight who supported the measure in 2019.
The previous legislation had little chance with Republicans in charge of the Senate and President Trump in the White House, but Mr. Biden has made transgender rights a priority, starting with a landmark Day One executive order to combat discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation.
“Passing the Equality Act the last time was historic, a day of hope and happiness for millions,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, said in her floor speech. “Now with a Democratic Senate majority and President Biden in the White House, and Vice President Harris there as well, we will pass it once more and we will never stop fighting until it becomes law.”
Sen. Jeff Merkley, Oregon Democrat, introduced a Senate companion bill last week, but the road through the 50-50 Senate remains fraught. Democrats would need 10 Republicans to stave off a filibuster, and they may have lost their leading prospect.
Sen. Susan M. Collins, Maine Republican, told the Washington Blade that she would not co-sponsor the Senate bill because its authors failed to address her concerns. She was the only Republican co-sponsor in the previous Congress.
“There were certain provisions of the Equality Act which needed revision,” Ms. Collins said in the article. “Unfortunately, the commitments that were made to me were not [given] last year.”
The bill bars discrimination in areas including housing, employment, education, lending and public accommodations.
“The fact is in most states an LGBTQ person is at risk of being denied housing, education or the right to serve on a jury just because of who they are,” said Rep. David Cicilline, Rhode Island Democrat and the bill’s sponsor. “The Equality Act does no more or no less than say LGBTQ people deserve the same rights and responsibilities as all other Americans, most fundamentally the right to live lives free of discrimination.”
Critics argued that the bill goes further than that. Feminists and women’s sports advocates said the measure would effectively eliminate female athletics by requiring schools and leagues to include biological males who identify as females.
“This legislation would be devastating for women’s rights, forcing female athletes to compete against biological males and opening private women’s spaces to men, including bathrooms, locker rooms and shelters,” said Terry Schilling, executive director of the American Principles Project. “It would also deeply imperil every American’s First Amendment rights to free speech and freedom of religion.”
The bill specifically exempts itself from the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, raising fears that churches, religious schools and devout small-business owners could be sanctioned for adhering to traditional beliefs or refusing to offer health insurance that covers gender reassignment.
“Religious charities like Little Sisters of the Poor could not opt out of this requirement or take such a case to court,” said Rep. Vicky Hartzler, Missouri Republican. “Family-owned businesses, like Jack Phillips’ Masterpiece Cakeshop or Barronelle Stutzman’s Arlene’s Flowers would be required to celebrate same-sex unions and transition procedures.”
The bill also bans discrimination based on “pregnancy, childbirth, or a related medical condition,” leading to concerns that the measure could become a mandate for federal abortion funding.
Rep. Yvette Herrell, New Mexico Republican, said that “any parent who doesn’t want [their child] to go through gender reassignment surgery at a young age would be stigmatized.”
Rep. Tom McClintock, California Republican, said the bill “is about to replace [parents] with bureaucrats.”
Dismissing those concerns was Rep. Jerrold Nadler, New York Democrat, who insisted that under the bill, “Women still have rights, religious freedom is still protected, parents are still involved in their children’s health care, and doctors are still free to exercise their professional medical judgment.”