Equality Act Passes the House

May 22, 2019

On May 17, the House advanced Rep. David Cicilline’s (D-R.I.) Equality Act (H.R. 5), which would extend federal anti-discrimination protections to LGBTQ Americans in housing, employment, credit, and federally funded programs, among other areas. The measure passed a vote of 236 – 173 with eight Republicans joining Democrats in support of the bill. 

The Equality Act updates existing federal nondiscrimination laws—including the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Fair Housing Act, the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, the Jury Selection and Services Act, and several laws regarding employment with the federal government—to explicitly include sexual orientation and gender identity as protected characteristics. The legislation also amends the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to prohibit discrimination in public spaces and services and federally funded programs on the basis of sex. 

Additionally, the Equality Act would update the public spaces and services covered in current law to include retail stores, services such as banks and legal services, and transportation services. It would extend protections to employment, housing, loan applications, education, public accommodations and other areas.

Republican opponents argued the measure would restrict individual religious freedoms and mandate “specific accommodations” in shared facilities that would put burdens on small businesses and schools. In response, Rep. Cicilline argued that the bill “does not, nor could any legislation,” supersede the First Amendment’s religious freedom protections.

The House vote comes as the Supreme Court has accepted three cases that test whether the 1964 Civil Rights Act’s Title VII prohibition against sex-based employment discrimination extends to sexual orientation and gender identity. The vote is largely symbolic since the measure is unlikely to go anywhere in the Republican-controlled Senate, and the White House has signaled that President Donald Trump will not sign it.