Story at a glance

  • The Equality Act is an amendment to the Civil Rights Act, which protects Americans against discrimination.
  • The proposed legislation would add sex, gender identity and sexual orientation to the protected classes in the act.
  • President Biden is calling on Congress to pass the bill “swiftly.”

During the 93rd session of the United States Congress in 1974, Reps. Bella Abzug and Ed Koch of New York intoduced an amendment to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to protect LGBTQ+ Americans from discrimination. Nearly half a century later, the Equality Act has been introduced three times in Congress to no avail. 

On Thursday, Rhode Island Rep. David Cicilline and Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley introduced the Equality Act in Congress for a fourth time, this time with the support of the president.


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“Every person should be treated with dignity and respect, and this bill represents a critical step toward ensuring that America lives up to our foundational values of equality and freedom for all,” President Biden said in a statement on Friday.

Last June, the Supreme Court ruled that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits against discrimination on the basis of sex in the workplace, also covers sexual orientation and gender identity. The Biden administration has interpreted the decision to extend to housing, health care and education, among other areas of public life, but without legislative action, these protections could be reversed by another executive order. 


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“All of us go to work and school, go home, and go shopping, and none of us should have to keep our families hidden or pretend to be someone we’re not to do those things,” said Merkley in a statement. “But in 29 states, Americans can still be evicted, be thrown out of a restaurant, or be denied a loan because of who they are or whom they love. We all love the vision of America as a land of freedom and equality, but are we willing to take the steps to make that vision closer to reality?"

The Equality Act would explicitly prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex, gender identity and sexual orientation in public accommodations, federal funding, employment, housing, equal credit opportunity and juries, as well as ensure the desegregation of public facilities and education. For the first time in the United States, federal law would explicitly prohibit denying "access to a shared facility, including a restroom, a locker room, and a dressing room, that is in accordance with the individual's gender identity." It also guarantees that "pregnancy, childbirth, or a related medical condition shall not receive less favorable treatment than other physical conditions."

The legislation defines gender identity as "the gender-related identity, appearance, mannerisms, or other gender-related characteristics of an individual, regardless of the individual’s designated sex at birth" and sexual orientation as "homosexuality, heterosexuality or bisexuality." It also amends the definition of sex to include "a sex stereotype; pregnancy, childbirth, or a related medical condition; sexual orientation or gender identity; and sex characteristics, including intersex traits."


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Published on Feb 19, 2021