There was an important ‘call and response’ that occurred in our Federal Government this week, which intended or not is important to note. Though this is not the exact time-line, here are the ‘call’ and ‘response’. In February a version of Mr. Trump’s executive order on religion was leaked and it showed quite a severe document, ultimately the Executive Order that was signed was a much watered down version – but both the leaked and the actual Oder are the ‘call’; the ‘response’ is the re-introduction of the Equality Act.
For some Mr. Trump’s Presidential Order Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty, signed Thursday (5/4/17), was a victory, for some a small step in the right direction, for others a pointless photo-op and for others a dangerous first step (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/acts-of-faith/wp/2017/05/05/many-religious-freedom-advocates-are-disappointed-with-trumps-executive-order/?utm_term=.3b1353be8c3c; https://thinkprogress.org/religious-freedom-eo-conservatives-f8a25d8e435a). While creating much a-do the Order does not change any policy but rather reiterates the First Amendment, the Johnson Amendment and encourages the Secretaries of Treasury, Labor as well as Health and Human Services to consider revoking the ACA’s mandate for insurance coverage of contraception (https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2017/05/04/presidential-executive-order-promoting-free-speech-and-religious-liberty).
Unlike this Presidential Order, the Senate and House bills re-introducing the Equality Act would do a great deal. Senator Jeff Merkley from Oregon, along with 45 co-sponsors (43 Democrats, including Feinstein & Harris, along with 2 Independents) introduced the bill (S. 1006) into the Senate and Representative David Cicilline from Rhode Island, along with 194 co-sponsors (193 Democrats along with 1 brave Republican – Rep. Ros-Lehtinen from Fl) introduced the bill (H.R. 2282) into the House (https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/senate-bill/1006?q=%7B%22search%22%3A%5B%22S.+1006%22%5D%7D&r=1;https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/house-bill/2282?q=%7B%22search%22%3A%5B%22H.R.+2282%22%5D%7D&r=1). Due to having been introduced on May 2nd (this past Tuesday) the text of the bills is not yet available (Source: see above). However, Senator Merkley and Representative Cicilline are the authors of the 2015 bill (note that the 2015 Senate and House bills were the same), which the current bills are said to be re-introducing, thus we will look at the past version, called the Equality Act, to understand the current bills.
In brief the Equality Act would have added Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) individuals to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Fair Housing Act, the Equal Credit Opportunity Act and the Jury Selection and Service Act thus enshrining the protections of LGBT individuals (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/mara-keisling/the-equality-act-is-the-l_b_7851266.html). Even though most Americans support LGBT rights – the Public Religion Research Institute conducted a poll and found that 70% of Americans supported a bill like the Equality Act (http://www.hrc.org/blog/equality-act-reintroduced-with-unprecedented-corporate-support) and LGB rights, as evidenced by opinions on same sex marriage (I am not including support for same sex marriage as evidence for the support of Trans rights): per Gallup 68% of Americans were in agreement with same sex marriage (http://www.gallup.com/poll/1651/Gay-Lesbian-Rights.aspx), per the Pew Research Center 78% of liberal, 66% of moderate and 29% of conservative Americans were in favor of marriage for all (http://www.pewforum.org/2016/05/12/changing-attitudes-on-gay-marriage/) and even though same sex marriage is the law of the land there is no federal law protecting LGBT individuals from discrimination, meaning that discrimination still exists.
In fact, per the Pew Research Center, 21% of LGBT individuals reported experiencing workplace discrimination in 2013 (http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2013/11/04/as-congress-considers-action-again-21-of-lgbt-adults-say-they-faced-workplace-discrimination/) and a survey by The Human Rights Campaign found that “nearly two-thirds of self-identified LGBTQ Americans report experiencing discrimination” (http://www.hrc.org/blog/equality-act-reintroduced-with-unprecedented-corporate-support). In 31 states, “LGBTQ people remain at risk of being fired, evicted or denied services because of who they are” (http://www.hrc.org/blog/equality-act-reintroduced-with-unprecedented-corporate-support) meaning that “currently over half of all LGBT Americans live in jurisdictions where they can be denied service, employment or housing because of their sexual orientation or gender identity” (http://www.eqca.org/equality-act/). Thus, an Act of Congress to ban discrimination against LGBT individuals is still needed.
The Equality Act of 2015 explicitly prohibited discrimination on the basis of perceived or actual sexual orientation (being Lesbian, Gay or Bisexual) and/or gender identity (being Trans-gender) in the following seven areas: employment, housing (renting or purchasing), public accommodations (think restaurants, shops, all forms of transportation – taxis, buses, trains, planes, etc… -, places of entertainment, etc…), credit (mortgages, credit cards, loans), education, jury service and all federally funded programs. This Act expanded the definition of public accommodations and because this Act was being added to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 it would have brought that expanded definition of public accommodations to all groups of individuals protected by the Civil Rights Act. In addition, the Act brought the issue of someone’s sex into the Civil Rights Act, which in theory would lay the groundwork for an incarnation of the Equal Rights Act (aka Women’s Rights) to possibly one day, maybe, who knows, get passed. Because this Act was being added to these already existing Acts (as noted the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Fair Housing Act, the Equal Credit Opportunity Act and the Jury Selection and Service Act) no new religious exemptions against LGBTQ individuals could be created. Finally, this Act would have made discrimination against someone due to her or his gender identity both a crime of sexual discrimination and gender identity discrimination (Sources for the whole paragraph: https://www.congress.gov/bill/114th-congress/senate-bill/1858/text?r=16; http://www.huffingtonpost.com/mara-keisling/the-equality-act-is-the-l_b_7851266.html).
A more concise overview of the bill is provided by The Human Rights Campaign: “The Equality Act creates clear, consistent protections to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in employment ensuring that LGBTQ employees are hired, fired, and promoted based on their performance. In addition, the bill provides protections from discrimination for LGBTQ people in housing, credit, and jury service. The bill would also prohibit discrimination in public accommodations and federal funding on the basis of sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity” (http://www.hrc.org/resources/business-coalition-for-equality).
Finally, the business world has shown once again that they have a better read on the pulse of American society than the conservative right and the current Republican Party – 90 or so large businesses stood with the Human Rights Campaign in supporting the re-introduction of the Equality Act on May 5th. These businesses represent every state, nearly every letter of the alphabet (V,Y and Z are not in the mix), a wide range of industries – from Monsanto, to Microsoft, to Air BnB and Gap – and include San Diego’s very own Qualcom. For a list of corporations supporting this bill go to: http://www.hrc.org/resources/business-coalition-for-equality (note this is a list of corporations that supported the bill in 2015, it is easier to read than the 2017 list and to the best of my scanning, all the businesses are the same; but for the sake of accuracy, go to: http://www.hrc.org/blog/equality-act-reintroduced-with-unprecedented-corporate-support to see the businesses supporting the bill in 2017).