WASHINGTON — U.S. House lawmakers on Friday voted to approve sweeping legislation aimed at barring discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, in spite of broad opposition from House Republicans.
In a major victory for LGBTQ rights advocates, the House approved the bill, dubbed the Equality Act, by a vote of 236-173.
Eight Republicans voted to approve the legislation, including U.S. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, of Pennsylvania’s 1st District, who co-sponsored the legislation.
All nine of Pennsylvania’s Democratic representatives in Congress voted yes on the bill. Six commonwealth Republicans voted no, while U.S. Rep. Lloyd Smucker, of the 11th District, did not vote. The 12 Congressional District, which leans heavily Republican, is vacant.
The measure would amend the 1964 Civil Rights Act by explicitly banning discrimination based on sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity in education, employment, housing, credit, and the jury system.
House Democrats celebrated the bill’s passage as a landmark achievement by Congress.
On Twitter, U.S. Rep. Brendan Boyle, D-2nd District, said he was “proud to vote ‘yes’ [on the bill] today on the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, no less. LGBTQ+ Americans deserve the same civil rights as the rest of us. Long overdue.”
You’re right?? https://t.co/ewMFTLs7IS
— Dwight Evans (@RepDwightEvans) May 17, 2019
“No matter who you love or how you identify, everyone should be treated with decency and respect,” U.S. Rep. Madeleine Dean, D-4th District, said. “This legislation takes the next step in a long American tradition of expanding civil rights protections. It affirms that in this country, there is no ‘us’ and ‘them’ – there’s just us.”
U.S. Rep. Chrissy Houlahan, D-6th District, whose daughter is openly gay, called the bill a victory for all LBGTQ Americans.
“Today, I made good on my promise to my Molly. I voted to pass the Equality Act,” she said. “I won’t stop fighting until every LGBTQ American receives equal protection under the law. To my Molly, my Pennsylvania, and my LGBTQ brothers & sisters across the country: today is for you.”
When I decided to run for Congress, I sat down with my daughter, my Molly. I asked her what she thought about sharing our family’s stories with the public. I wasn’t surprised when she told me ‘yes.’ Her bravery knows no limit. 1/ https://t.co/VTwfH6O1No
— Chrissy Houlahan (@RepHoulahan) May 17, 2019
Currently, less than half of U.S. states have enacted their own laws that explicitly prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, according to the Movement Advancement Project, a nonprofit think tank.
“In most states, same sex couples can be denied service in restaurants, fired from jobs, evicted from homes with no legal recourse,” Dean, a former state lawmaker, said. “They can be mistreated and discriminated against and their government won’t stand up for them. This legislation takes us the next step in a long American tradition of expanding civil rights and protections. It affirms that in this country there is no us and them, it’s just us.”
Democrats in the Pennsylvania General Assembly have for years pushed legislation that would extend workplace and housing discrimination protections to people based on sexual orientation and gender identity. But the state House bill, known as the “Fairness Act,” has been stymied session after session by Butler Republican Daryl Metcalfe, who chaired the powerful State Government Committee.
Now, with Metcalfe out of that position, supporters of the legislation are optimistic it could at last get a floor vote. New committee Chairman Garth Everett, R-Lycoming, told the Capital-Star that while LGBTQ non-discrimination “was an issue that was dead on arrival for” Metcalfe, “it’s not an issue that’s dead on arrival for me.”
This session’s state House bill, introduced again by state Rep. Dan Frankel, D-Allegheny, has 89 co-sponsors, including a handful of Republicans. Everett has yet to schedule a hearing.
This is monumental & long overdue. I commend the U.S. House for their action.
However, we can't rely on the federal government to guarantee these protections — it’s time to make this a reality in Pennsylvania with #HB1404 which extends civil rights protections to LGBTQ PA'ns. https://t.co/vxZzI0s1lS
— Rep. Brian Sims (@RepSims) May 17, 2019
Despite the fanfare on Capitol Hill, the effort is unlikely to be enacted into law this Congress. The Senate companion version has one Republican co-sponsor, Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, but is unlikely to garner broad GOP support in that chamber.
The Trump administration opposes the effort. An official told NBC News the “bill in its current form is filled with poison pills that threaten to undermine parental and conscience rights.”
House Republicans assailed the measure, warning that Democrats don’t understand the reach of the bill.
The legislation’s “vague and circular definitions of gender identity will lead only to uncertainty, litigation and harm to individuals and organizations that will be forced to comply with a law the authors don’t even seem to understand,” Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., said.
Rep. Debbie Lesko, R-Ariz., said that the bill would “erase women and girls’ rights by requiring facilities such as schools, churches, dormitories, domestic violence shelters, homeless shelters to allow biological males who identify as women in women’s bathrooms, women’s and girls’ shelters, women’s and girls’ showers and in women’s locker rooms.”
Democrats accused their GOP colleagues of playing up fears about the bill as a distraction.
At a hearing on the legislation in April, openly transgender witness Carter Brown, who leads an organization called Black Transmen Inc., said lawmakers had discussed “transgender people as a threat, in the bathroom, in sports,” Time reported.
Brown added, “My identity is not a threat to anyone else.” Without explicit federal protections for LGBTQ people, “it’s a threat to me and my ability to provide for myself and my family.”
Capital-Star Editor John L. Micek and Associate Editor Sarah Anne Hughes also contributed to this story.