The House of Representatives passing The Equality Act presents LGBTQ rights, religious controversy

Mia Emerson, Feature Editor, Editorial Cartoonist

On Thursday, Feb. 25, the House of Representatives passed the Equality Act with a vote of 224 to 206, meaning the bill has been passed to the Senate. 

The Equality Act is a bill that has repeatedly been previously introduced in Congress many times and managed to pass the House in February of 2019 before being shot down by the Senate. 

This bill proposes an amendment to the 1964 Civil Rights Act that would explicitly state and expand on protections against discrimination on sexual orientation and gender identity. While the 1964 Civil Rights Act protected against discrimination in employment and housing while the Equality Act would reaffirm these protections but also protect against discrimination in federally funded programs, retail and online stores, stadiums, and transportation services. 

These laws would be national, which covers many states that lack LGBTQ anti-discrimination laws. 

According to The Washington Post, “In 27 states, a person can be denied housing because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. They can be denied access to education in 31 states and the right to serve on a jury in 41 […]”

A few opponents find this bill unnecessary because, in June 2020, the Supreme Court ruled the 1964 Civil Rights Act which offers protection on the basis of sex applies to LGBTQ people. However, because this was a Supreme Court ruling, not law, there can be future rulings that may decide differently, which is why many encouraged and voted in favor of the Equal Rights Act.  

President Joseph Biden has also voiced his support for the bill, saying in a White House statement on February 19, he “applaud[s] Congressman David Cicilline and the entire Congressional Equality Caucus for introducing the Equality Act in the House of Representatives yesterday, and [he] urge[s] Congress to swiftly pass this historic legislation.”

This bill also states that it trumps the protections of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, meaning people cannot argue LGBTQ discrimination is due to their religion, with the RFRA, in a court of law. 

Many opponents are alarmed at this and argue that this is a violation of their rights. 

A few religious organizations believe this legislation could prevent single-gendered religious schools from giving out free and reduced lunches, force churches to rent space for LGBTQ wedding ceremonies, and threatens synagogues’ and mosques’ abilities to receive federal grants to protect them from violence.

Other oppositions to the Equality Act include the belief that this bill would violate a woman’s right to safety and privacy and showers and that transgender women would be allowed to play in women’s sports. 

However, in an interview with CNN, Illinois Representative Marie Newman said the sports comments were a “red herring” and that is not what is being addressed in the Equality Act.