The Equality Act: The patriotic approach to fundamental fairness for LGBTQ Americans
Recently, Memorial Day weekend and the 77th anniversary of D-Day, offered every community in our country a moment to commemorate the sacrifices of Americans who risked everything to defend us. The neat rows of headstones in Arlington National Cemetery and in borrowed fields of the foreign lands where they fell summon our reverence and humility. The gratitude owed for their sacrifice should not be diminished by prejudices against their individual identities. Nor should our respect for veterans who survived the hardships and losses of war succumb to the intolerance of some for their color, creed, sexual orientation or gender identity.
Memorial Day marked the end of Military Appreciation Month. This gave way to Pride Month. The concurrence reminds us that the work of ending discrimination against LGBTQ Americans is unfinished. After a long and difficult struggle, they now serve openly and proudly in all our armed services. Our military is stronger and better for their service, and America is safer.
LGBTQ veterans who stood in harm’s way for the sake of America’s interests and ideals are owed — as all Americans are owed — equal protections of our laws. And yet, not every state in the U.S. fully ensures that this fundamental right of American citizenship is extended to their LGBTQ communities, and that gay and transgender citizens are protected from discrimination in all the places where they live, work and access public spaces.
One year ago, in a landmark decision in Bostock v. Clayton County, the Supreme Court by a 6-to-3 majority ruled that existing federal law protects LGBTQ people from discrimination in their places of employment. Earlier this year, legislation was introduced in the House of Representatives to codify that decision and to ensure that all federal laws barring discrimination, such as the Fair Housing Act, for example, equally protect LGBTQ Americans.
The Equality Act expressly prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in all 50 states. Twenty-one states have now established comprehensive nondiscrimination protections. But in the other 29 states, where half of all LGBTQ Americans reside, only partial and inadequate protections exist.
The Equality Act would substitute a clear, comprehensive, national commitment to the civil rights of LGBTQ citizens for the patchwork of protections that today leaves many vulnerable to the prejudices of others. That commitment would apply in all the places where Americans go about their lives, where they work, shop, bank, seek health care, use transportation and contract for legal services, to identify some aspects of daily life where gay and transgender people have faced discrimination in the past. No one should be refused housing or denied an essential service because of who they are or who they love.
Americans overwhelmingly support nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people. It’s one of the few public issues that doesn’t divide starkly along partisan lines. In recent polling, over 85 percent of Democrats and 78 percent of independents support such protections, as does a substantial majority — 62 percent — of Republicans. Six out of 10 members of every religious group in the U.S. support nondiscrimination. Most Americans believe equality isn’t a Republican or Democratic value, a liberal or conservative value, a straight or gay value. It’s a core American value, and all Americans, whatever their differences, are entitled to the equal protections of the law.
In a bipartisan vote, the House passed the Equality Act this spring. The legislation is now before the Judiciary Committee of the Senate, where committee members are engaged in bipartisan discussions about the bill’s language. It’s believed that the Senate could vote on the bill this summer. Fundamental fairness for fellow Americans argues for that action by the full Senate should swiftly follow and differences in the legislation be reconciled by the two chambers and sent to the president for his signature.
Gay and transgender Americans have fought for America’s ideals. They are surely entitled to their protections. They have suffered and died to preserve for the world what Abraham Lincoln called the “last, best hope of earth.” We may not be able to pass laws that banish hate or prejudice from the human heart. But we can make sure our laws protect the rights of all Americans equally. For in that commitment resides the object of our founding ideals, which we have imperfectly strived to achieve in the course of our nation’s history — respect for the dignity of every human life.
Lawrence Korb is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, retired Navy captain and served as assistant secretary of Defense in the Reagan administration.
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