US House to vote on Equality Act again next week in decisive push to protect LGBT+ Americans

The Equality Act would amend existing civil rights legislation to bar discrimination based on gender identification and sexual orientation

Democrats in the House of Representatives are to revive the Equality Act next week, in a bid to break the impasse over bill to protect LGBT+ people in all 50 states.

The bill would amend existing Civil Rights Act provisions barring discrimination based on race and sex to also add specific protections for sexual orientation and gender identity.

Republicans have stood in the way of the measure and predecessor bills for more than two decades. While the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives passed the Equality Act in 2019 by a vote of 236-173, it was never even brought for a vote in the then-Republican controlled Senate.

However, with Democrats now in control of the House, Senate and presidency for the first time in a decade, efforts to pass the bill are being stepped up in line with Joe Biden‘s promise to make it a priority in his first 100 days.

Equality Act could face bumpy ride, even with Democrats in control.

House majority leader Steny Hoyer confirmed the bill would come to the floor again next week in a schedule note to colleagues.

According to the Washington Blade, he said that in addition to COVID-19 relief packages, “other legislation coming to the floor next week are two bills that passed through the House last congress: a wilderness package and the Equality Act, which will end legal discrimination against LGBTQ Americans.”

While the bill is expected to once again clear the House, where Democrats have a small but solid majority, it may face a tougher time in the Senate, where Democrats and Republicans both have 50 seats.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi speaks during a 2019 news conference where House and Senate Democrats introduced the Equality Act

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi speaks during a 2019 news conference where House and Senate Democrats introduced the Equality Act (Getty/Mark Wilson)

Vice president Kamala Harris has the ability to cast a tie-breaking vote in the Senate if the bill gains exactly 50 votes, but one Democrat, West Virginia’s Joe Manchin, has previously declared his opposition to the bill.

To make matters worse, 60 votes would be needed to override a likely GOP filibuster effort unless Democrats succeed in abolishing the filibuster mechanism – which Manchin and another conservative Democrat, Kyrsten Sinema, have both stated their opposition to supporting.

Republicans gear up opposition to LGBT+ non-discrimination law.

Before it even clears the House, Senate Republicans are already outlining their opposition the measure. A spokesperson for Mitt Romney told the Washington Blade: “Senator Romney believes that strong religious liberty protections are essential to any legislation on this issue, and since those provisions are absent from this particular bill, he is not able to support it.”

Due to the long-held GOP opposition to the Equality Act and its predecessor ENDA, there is currently no US-wide law affording specific protections to LGBT+ people. 27 states do not have comprehensive non-discrimination protections that include LGBT+ people.

However, after a landmark Supreme Court ruling in 2020 and a sweeping executive order from Joe Biden, LGBT+ people are afforded some limited protections under rules outlawing sex-based discrimination.