About time

LGBTQ Equality Act heading to U.S. House next week

The Capitol building, seat of Congress in Washington DC
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The Equality Act, which President Joe Biden promised to introduce in the first 100 days of his Presidency, is heading to Congress next week.

The Washington Blade says House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer revealed the news in a “Dear Colleague” letter to fellow legislators sent Tuesday evening.

Maryland Democrat Hoyer says it will be one of two pieces of legislation for the House to debate in addition to the Covid-relief American Rescue Plan.

“Other legislation coming to the floor next week are two bills that passed through the House last Congress: a wilderness package and the Equality Act, which will end legal discrimination against LGBTQ Americans.”

Related: President Biden signs historic LGBTQ executive order on first day in office

The Equality Act will be introduced by Democratic Representative David Cicilline (RI) and Senator Jeff Merkley (OR). The act has been repeatedly introduced since 2015, but in previous years, Democrats did not control both chambers of Congress. Last year’s Equality Act legislation sailed through the House by 236-173 votes but stalled in the Senate.

Although last year’s Supreme Court ruling (Bostock v. Clayton County) extended civil rights protections to LGBTQ people in the workplace (albeit with some religious exemptions), the Equality Act will extend similar safeguards in other areas. This will include housing, education, jury service, public accommodation, and federal programs.

Although a House vote on the Equality Act is likely to pass, becoming law is still not guaranteed. The Senate is now split 50/50 between Republicans and Democrats.

Besides a slim chance that not every Democrat will support it (West Virginia’s Senator Joe Manchin was the lone Democrat to voice opposition when legislation was introduced in 2019, voicing concerns over religious liberty), more likely is an attempt by Republicans to filibuster it.

To ensure the latter does not happen, ten Republicans would also need to support the act. Advocates had been hoping that Senator Mitt Romney (UT) might be one of them. However, he has already indicated this is not the case.

Late on Tuesday, reports Washington Blade, A Romney spokesperson said, “Sen. Romney believes that strong religious liberty protections are essential to any legislation on this issue, and since those provisions are absent from this particular bill, he is not able to support it.”

Related: President Biden signs memo to protect LGBTQ rights around the globe

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in early February the President “stands by” his pledge to bring in the Equality Act in his first 100 days but said Congress would need to take action first.