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Senate could extend LGBTQ protections with equality law

The Supreme Court released its landmark ruling legalizing same-sex marriage six years ago in June, a decision that was particularly resonant as it took place during Pride Month. This month, the Senate may have an opportunity to pass civil rights legislation of similar significance to LGBTQ Americans, if it is not blocked by the Republican opposition.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced last month that the Senate could pass the Equality Act, which would enshrine legal protections for LGBTQ Americans, in June. Yet it is not yet clear whether the Senate will actually consider the bill passed by the House during Pride Month.

Twenty-nine states do not have laws that explicitly protect LGBTQ Americans from discrimination, resulting in a patchwork of protections that vary from state to state. The Equality Act would expand protections to cover federally funded programs, employment, housing, loan applications, education and public housing.

“This would give us, for the first time, full coverage of protections across the country that are badly needed,” said Zeke Stokes, consultant for GLAAD, who leads the organization’s Summer of Equality work to advocate for the adoption of the bill.

Last year, the Supreme Court ruled that protections guaranteed by the Civil Rights Act of 1964 on the basis of gender extended to discrimination against LGBTQ Americans. The Equality Act would explicitly define these protections for people based on their orientation and gender identity, instead of including these guarantees under the generic term “sex”.

The equality law was first passed by the House in 2019, but was not considered by the then Republican-controlled Senate and faced opposition from the Trump administration. It is still unclear whether the bill will be able to garner the support of enough Republicans to pass.

Most laws require 60 votes to advance in the Senate, and Democrats have a narrow 50-50 Senate majority. They need the support of at least 10 Republicans to push through most of their priorities, including the equality law.

Many Republican lawmakers have raised concerns about the equality law, fearing that it infringes on religious freedoms. Republican Senator Susan Collins, who was the bill’s sole Republican co-sponsor in the previous Congress, did not co-sponsor the Equality Act as reintroduced this year, in part due to concerns about the wording of the bill. Law on Religious Organizations.

The Equality Act would change the wording of the Civil Rights Act to prevent discrimination in federally funded programs on the basis of sex or sexual orientation. But it would affect some faith-based organizations that receive federal funding, like Catholic Charities, which has in the past denied adoption services to same-sex couples. However, if the bill is amended in response to these concerns, it runs the risk of legitimizing the exemptions for which it was written.

The bill may also not enjoy universal Democratic support, as Senator Joe Manchin is the only Democrat not to be a co-sponsor of the measure. Manchin said in 2019 that he would not support the bill without amendments, explaining at the time that he was “not convinced that the equality law as drafted provides sufficient guidance to local officials who will be responsible for its implementation, especially with regard to gender transition students in public schools.

But the protections offered by the Equality Act are widely popular among most Americans. A recent survey by the Public Religion Research Institute found that 76% of Americans support protecting LGBTQ Americans from discrimination in public employment, housing, and housing. While support is stronger among Democrats and Independents, the poll found that a majority of Republicans, 62%, also support anti-discrimination laws.

Supporters argue that given the popularity of anti-discrimination measures, even among Republicans, senators from dominant GOP states should vote with their constituents on the issue. GLAAD’s Summer of Equality campaign involves coordinating direct phone calls to the offices of key senators and targeting lawmakers with digital ads.

The bill also has the support of prominent figures in American pop culture like Taylor Swift, who has been a strong supporter of the Equality Act. In one statement posted on Twitter earlier this month, Swift expressed support for the Summer of Equality campaign and the Equality Act.

GLAAD will also send messages to senators supporting the equality law on behalf of voters who sign a letter through the organization’s website.

“We hope that fair Republican senators like Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, Mitt Romney, Rob Portman and a few others will hear the messages of their constituents loud and clear in their state and be leaders in their caucus,” Stokes said. , referring to more moderate Republican senators. “In our opinion, equality should never be a partisan political issue.

Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley, who first introduced the equality law in 2015, noted that the bill has advanced further than ever in the Senate.

“Already this year, the bill was passed by the House with a bipartisan vote, won more Senate co-sponsors than ever before, received the support of more than 400 large companies who requested its passage and had its very first Senate hearing. before the Judicial Committee, ”Merkley said in a statement to CBS News.

Merkley added that he “continues to have productive conversations with my colleagues across the aisle about this historic legislation,” and expressed hope that the Senate would pass the bill and placed “on President Biden’s desk to be signed into law.”

The Human Rights Campaign, an American LGBTQ rights organization, has also launched a campaign to promote passage of the bill in the Senate, including encouraging supporters to call and email their senators. Alphonso David, the chairman of the Human Rights Campaign, told CBS News that the “national multi-level campaign” also included paid and earned media, polls and direct lobbying.

“We understand that it is not easy to generate the support of 10 Republicans, but we also understand that the promotion of civil rights has never been easy,” said David.

Some progressives have argued for the elimination of filibuster to push through Democratic priorities that have little or no chance of receiving Republican support in the Senate. Stokes said he would personally support an end to the filibuster if that proves to be an obstacle to the passage of the equality law.

“It would be a real shame if after two years we entered the 2022 election and had nothing to show because of an obscure process in the US Senate,” Stokes said. Democrats took over the White House and Senate in the 2020 election, but face a difficult midterm card in 2022, with a strong possibility that they will lose a majority in Congress.

However, Manchin has repeatedly reiterated his opposition to eliminating the filibuster, as has Democratic Senator Kyrsten Sinema. Other Democratic senators have privately expressed concerns that the practice will end. Without the support of the 50 Senate Democrats, the obstruction will remain in place.

Since the filibuster appears to be here to stay, it brings activists back to their first and only option: somehow convince enough Republicans to support the bill. Stokes said that even if the bill does not pass this month or even this year, he is confident that “we will get it passed and signed by a pro-equality president” – but only if “Americans who care speak loud and clear. “

David urged two-thirds of Americans who support the bill to reach out to their senators, as the voters ‘voice may be the most important factor in changing senators’ views on the bill.

“I am confident that with a qualified majority of voters supporting the equality law, we will eventually get to the point where we can convince Republican senators to support the bill,” David said.


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