On Thursday, The House of Representatives passed the Equality act in a 224-206 vote. The Equality Act. HR. 5, if passed by the Senate, would amend the 1964 Civil rights Act to prevent ‘discrimination on the basis of sex, gender identity and sexual orientation’. It would impact a plethora of areas of daily life, including abortion, sports, family, and marriage.
Only three Republicans crossed the aisle and supported the Democrats. Many members of the GOP have decried the act as an attack on religious liberty, as there is a high chance that it will force many religious people to violate their own beliefs or face legal consequences.
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The consequences of the passage of the Equality Act would range from people being allowed to use the locker room of their choice to transgender individuals being allowed to compete in women’s sports. This has caused anger amongst conservatives, the vast majority of whom believe that biological sex is an important and necessary distinction.
Another worry is that it will limit women’s ability to participate in sport, as there are concerns that transgender females competing against biological females will have an unfair advantage.
The controversial act has already prompted many to question whether it poses a threat to people’s safety. If biological males (who identify as transgender females) are permitted to use female bathrooms, many are concerned that this could put women at risk, as dangerous individuals could pose as transgender to harm women. The same could of course also happen in reverse, as someone could pose as a transgender man in order to harm men.
However, Democrats have praised the passing of the Equality act. Rep. David Cicilline, who represents Rhode Island’s 1st District and is himself an openly gay man, said, “The LGBT community has waited long enough. The time has come to extend the blessings of liberty and equality to all of Americans regardless of who they are and who they love.”
The GOP’s saving grace could be the Senate, as the controversial act would need 60 votes in order to avoid a filibuster. This is unlikely, and is made even more unlikely by the fact that the Act previously passed the House in 2019, but failed to acquire 60 votes in the Senate. Nonetheless, with Joe Biden promising to make the Equality Act one of his top priorities, many Republicans and other conservatives are worried that things could play out differently this time.
In a statement last week, President Biden said “The Equality Act provides long overdue federal civil rights protections on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, locking in critical safeguards in our housing, education, public services, and lending systems — and codifying the courage and resilience of the LGBTQ+ movement into enduring law”.
GOP Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) said at a Freedom Caucus press conference:
“You don’t have to take our word for it. Let me just read this from page 25 of the bill: The Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 shall not provide a claim concerning, or a defense to a claim under, a covered title, or provide a basis for challenging the application or enforcement of a covered title. What’s worse: it doesn’t mention what it eviscerates really, and that is the First Amendment.”