What is the Equality Act?
Despite the landmark decision by SCOTUS in Obergefell v. Hodges legalizing gay marriage nation-wide, no federal law explicitly protects LGBT individuals from discrimination in scenarios outside of marriage.
The Equality Act is a comprehensive bill that would, if passed, add "sexual orientation" and "gender identity" to federal protections that already exist based on race, color, religion, sex, and national origin. This legislation, proposed by Rep David Cicilline (D-RI) and Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) is a modification of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
LGBT individuals couldn't be fired, evicted, or denied services based on their sexual orientation and/or gender identity.
Currently, no federal law explicitly protects LGBT individuals from discrimination in employment, housing, public services, credit, or education. For example, although same-sex couples can now legally marry nationwide, they still are not protected against being fired for their sexual orientation in 28 states. Protects for transgender workers is even smaller - only 19 states and the District of Columbia prohibit employment discrimination based on an individual's gender identity. The numbers are similar for housing, public services, and credit.
The Equality Act takes a comprehensive approach to protecting the by protecting individuals based on "sexual orientation" and "gender identity" in the following areas:
- Employment. Employers with 15 or more employees, as well as labor organizations, would be prohibited from discriminating against employees or potential employees on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. Under The Equality Act, there would be no religious exemption to discriminate against such employees. Federal employees would be protected under this law as well.
- Housing. The Equality Act would amend the Fair Housing Act to ensure that LGBT individuals cannot be denied the sale, rental or financing of housing. Currently only 18 states and the District of Columbia prohibit housing discrimination based on a tenant’s sexuality or sexual identity. Over 166 million Americans live in states where landlords can evict someone based on their sexuality.
- Public Services. The LGBT community could no longer ben denied services in stores, banks, transportation, and health care facilities. This would include respecting a transgender person's access to the sex-segregated bathroom facility that matches their gender identity.
- Public Education. LGBT individuals would be explicitly protected from discrimination in public education and federal student financial aid programs.
- Entities Receiving Federal Funding. Any entity that receives federal funds would be legally prohibited from discriminating against LGBT individuals in programs such as healthcare, child welfare, nutrition assistance, public education, and financial assistance for higher education programs.
- Credit. The LGBT community would have equal access to credit services and the term "spouse" would replace references to the heterosexual gender binary of "husband and wife" in the Equal Credit Opportunity Act.
- Juries. Federal law would ensure that LGBT individuals cannot be excluded from participation on a jury because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.