Business & Lobbying

Democrats want businesses to help get LGBT bill across finish line

Photo of David Cicilline and Nancy Pelosi
Greg Nash

The House this week is set to pass legislation that would expand LGBT protections, but Democrats are looking for help from the business community to get it through the Senate with GOP support.

Major companies and trade associations are largely endorsing the Equality Act and putting their lobbying weight behind the bill in an attempt to get enough Senate Republicans on board.

President Biden on Friday urged swift action on the legislation, which would prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity for housing, education, employment, credit, jury service and public accommodations. GOP support is needed to reach the 60-vote threshold in the evenly split Senate.

Some of the biggest names in corporate America are members of the Human Rights Campaign’s Business Coalition pushing for passage of the Equality Act, including American Express, AT&T, Bank of America, Chevron, CVS, General Motors, Marriott and Verizon.

“The legislation not only aligns with corporate values of fairness and inclusion, it’s also good business sense,” said Human Rights Campaign Director for the Workplace Equality Program Beck Bailey. “Leading employers have long offered nondiscrimination protections for their LGBTQ workers ensuring they are empowered to bring their full selves to work, but understand that employees and their families must have the uniform civil rights protections in other aspects of life.”

The bill, reintroduced Thursday by Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), passed the House in May 2019, with eight Republicans crossing the aisle, but wasn’t taken up in what was then the GOP-controlled Senate. The measure would need the support of 10 Republican senators to overcome a legislative filibuster and land on the president’s desk.

The business community rallied around it in 2019 and is re-upping its commitment this time around.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) recently touted the business community’s role as Democrats aim to get the Equality Act signed into law within the first 100 days of Biden’s presidency.

“Ending discrimination in the workplace and every other aspect of life, not only is good for the LGBTQ community, for our whole society, but also for the businesses that want the very best. They should be hiring without any concern of complaint about the diversity that they are introducing into there. That’s why we think we’ll have strong bipartisan support. We think the business community will help us in the Senate, yeah,” Pelosi told reporters on Jan. 28.

Sen. Susan Collins of Maine was the sole Republican co-sponsor of the legislation in the previous Congress. In June, she joined a group of Democrats calling on the Senate to bring it up for a vote.

The measure hasn’t been reintroduced in the Senate this year, but Democratic Sens. Jeff Merkley (Ore.), Cory Booker (N.J.) and Tammy Baldwin (Wis.) are expected to do so this week.

Advocacy groups working with the business community haven’t revealed which GOP senators they plan to target. While Collins has signaled support for the bill, other potential swing votes like Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) have indicated opposition.

The bill would amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Equal Credit Opportunity Act and the Jury Selection and Services Act by extending existing protections to sexual orientation and gender identity.

Another amendment to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 would include prohibiting discrimination in public spaces on the basis of sex and expanding public spaces covered in the law to include retail stores, banks, legal services and transportation services.

The Supreme Court in June ruled in a 6-3 decision that the country’s laws on sex discrimination in the workplace also apply to discrimination against LGBT individuals.

The Justice Department in the waning days of the Trump administration issued a last-minute memo to limit the scope of the decision, but Biden’s acting head of the Justice Department’s civil rights division revoked the directive last month.

Proponents of the bill are hoping to avoid any chance of a similar reversal during a future administration by getting the Equality Act signed into law.

Those supporters include many in Silicon Valley, including Apple, Facebook, Intel and Microsoft, who say winning over Senate Republicans is the final piece to that puzzle.

“As we’ve seen, businesses thrive when they are open to everyone, and the LGBTQ community deserves equal rights, protections, and opportunities. That is why we strongly support the House passage of the Equality Act and encourage the Senate to quickly follow suit,” said Peter Chandler, TechNet’s vice president of federal policy and government relations.

Tags Cory Booker David Cicilline Jeff Merkley Joe Biden Mitt Romney Nancy Pelosi Susan Collins Tammy Baldwin

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