The House Friday passed a bill that would amend the 1964 Civil Rights Act to include sexual orientation and gender identity, sparking a debate on the floor about religious liberty and women’s rights.
Democrats believe the Civil Rights Act should be amended beyond current protections for race, color, religion, sex, and national origin.
The Equality Act, passed 236-173 along party lines, would greatly expand non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ individuals to include not only the workplace, but also education, credit, jury service, federal funding, housing, and public accommodations.
Democrats, who all support the measure, said it would, for the first time, broadly protect LGBTQ individuals from discrimination.
“This is progress for America,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said just before the vote.
But Republicans said the measure would undermine religious freedom, destroy Title IX programs for women, and undercut parental rights.
Critics say it would require public schools nationwide to allow boys who identify as girls to compete competitively on girls teams, which would give them an unfair biological advantage over girls.
Rep. Vicki Hartzler, R-Mo., said the measure would eliminate the level playing field provided under Title IX programs.
“As a mother, teacher and former track coach, I’m deeply concerned about the implication of this bill, on and off the playing field,” Hartzler said. “High school female athletes will miss competitive opportunities because boys take home the medals.”
The Republican-led Senate won’t take up the bill. Sponsor David Cicillini, D-R.I., said he’s hoping public support for the bill will force Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to reconsider, but that is unlikely.
Even without Senate action, House passage is significant. It means the measure will be a top priority the next time Democrats control Congress and the White House.
House Democrats on Friday said LGBTQ individuals face discrimination every day and need the protections.
Democrats blocked a GOP amendment that would have excluded Title IX from the legislation, calling the provision an attempt at “fearmongering.”
Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif. said 30 states permit discrimination against LGBTQ people, while Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo., said two-thirds have reported experiencing discrimination.
Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Wis., who is gay, called the Equality Act, “Pretty simple, pretty normal, and pretty American.”
Republicans, however, flagged provisions in the bill that they said would threaten religious liberty and dismantle the protections afforded in the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
Churches and synagogues would be protected from provisions in the law, but their affiliated work would not.
“They can not only be sued, but it allows the attorney general to come in with the full force of the government and destroy that synagogue and that Christian organization,” Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas said. “This is born out of good intensions, but it is going to be so destructive.”