Fifty Years After Stonewall, Will the Equality Act Finally Pass?

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Friday March 15, 2019

This June marks half a century since the epoch-defining Stonewall uprising, a watershed moment in American history that is credited with giving rise to the modern LGBTQ rights movement. Will 2019 be the year that the long-fought-for Equality Act finally passes?

The Equality Act was reintroduced earlier this week by Democrats in both the House of Representatives and in the Senate, reported NBC News. The bill proposes an amendment to existing federal legislation namely the Civil Rights Acts of 1964. The fix would extend federal non-discrimination protections on the basis of "sexual orientation" and "gender identity," NBC News noted.

Though there is a patchwork of protections across America, with some cities and states extending protections to varying degrees, there is no similar federal protection. That, Democrats say, is wrong.

Said lead sponsor in the House, David Cicilline of Rhode Island, "In most states in this country, a gay couple can be married on Saturday, post their wedding photos to Instagram on Sunday, and lose their jobs or get kicked out of their apartments on Monday just because of who they are." Cicilline went on to say, "We are reintroducing the Equality Act in order to fix this."

Among the members of Congress who announced the bill's reintroduction was openly bisexual California Rep. Katie Hill, who talked about her convictions on the floor of the House on March 13, after the bill's introduction, reported local California newspaper The Proclaimer.

"I'm married to a man, I'm from a purple, historically Republican district, and everyone said it would be easier for me to hide who I am," Hill said about running openly for office, "but the reality is that representation matters, especially for the LGBTQ community, when so many of our basic rights are still at risk."

In addition to amending the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Equality Act would similarly update the Fair Housing Act, the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, and the Jury Selection and Services Act, the article noted.

Such federal anti-discrimination legislation was first introduced in 1974. The bill in its current form was introduced in 2015. Both Democratic hopefuls in the 2016 presidential election, Sen. Bernie Sanders and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, supported the bill. Since 2016, efforts to revive the bill have been fitful. Now that there is a Democratic majority in the House — and polls show a majority of Americans across party lines are in favor of such federal protections — the odds for the bill's passage have improved, if only slightly.

However, NBC News noted, Republican lawmakers in the Senate may not even have a chance to vote since Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell decides what proposed legislation comes to the Senate floor.

Cicilline tweeted his opinion that given a majority of McConnell's fellow Kentuckians are in favor of the sorts of protections the bill would provide, McConnell might pay for blocking the bill in the next election.

Were McConnell to allow the bill a vote in the Senate, there is some cause for optimism. Only four Republicans would need to vote for the bill, although support would have to be unanimous from Democrats and Independents, in order for it to pass. Sen. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin told NBC that she thought a vote could well lead to the measure being approved. "If you just had an up or down vote, we would have sufficient votes in both houses," Baldwin said.

NBC theorized that President Donald Trump might even sign a bill that extended federal nondiscrimination protections to all Americans. Though the Trump administration has created headlines for working against the LGBTQ community in a variety of ways, and despite Trump's rush to nominate candidates some see as anti-LGBTQ extremists to the judiciary, Trump has suggested in the past that, "Amending the Civil Rights Act would grant the same protection to gay people that we give to other Americans — it's only fair."

Then again, those were words Trump said in the year 2000 when he was speaking to The Advocate.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.

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