The Equality Act: Ending LGBTQ+ Discrimination and Ensuring Equal Protections
“LGBTQ+ Americans are asking for no more – and no less – than the full freedom to live as who they are.” That’s what U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) explained as he spoke during a recent congressional hearing where witnesses testified about why we need the Equality Act now more than ever.
What is the Equality Act?
The Equality Act would amend our existing civil rights laws in order to provide explicit and comprehensive civil rights protections to LGBTQ+ people nationwide. These protections would apply to key areas of life, including employment, housing, credit, education, public spaces and services, federally funded programs, and jury service. The Equality Act would allow LGBTQ+ people to have the same protections as everyone else who is covered by our nation’s civil rights laws.
The Equality Act also would close longstanding gaps in existing civil rights laws by barring sex discrimination by federally funded programs and businesses open to the public, and it would expand protections against discrimination on the basis of race, religion or national origin in public spaces.
On June 21, U.S. Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.) and U.S. Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.), and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) reintroduced this critical legislation in the U.S. Congress.
The Equality Act would also uphold religious freedom by clarifying that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) cannot be used to defend discrimination in public settings or with federal funds. Passed in 1993, RFRA is a federal law that was intended to protect religious freedom, especially for religious minorities. It has since been misinterpreted and misused to justify harmful religious exemptions that allow discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community, women and religious minorities.
Religious freedom is a foundational American principle. It guarantees everyone’s right to believe as they choose and practice, or not practice, a faith. But it doesn’t give anyone the right to discriminate against or harm others. The Equality Act upholds this fundamental value.
Why Do We Need the Equality Act?
Nearly two-thirds of LGBTQ+ people report experiencing discrimination in their personal lives. During her testimony at the hearing, Kelley Robinson, who heads up the Human Rights Campaign, explained why a federal law like the Equality Act is so vital right now. “More than 525 anti-LGBTQ+ bills have been introduced this year in the states,” Robinson said. “More than 220 of those bills target the transgender community – many targeting our children specifically. And more than 75 of those anti-LGBTQ+ bills have now become law.”
A federal law would help ensure that LGBTQ+ people are not subject to uncertainty and discrimination that affects their safety, their families and their everyday lives.
The majority of Americans believe in equal rights. According to GLAAD’s 2023 Accelerating Acceptance study, 84% of non-LGBTQ+ Americans support equal rights for the LGBTQ community. A full 91% agree that LGBTQ+ people should have the freedom to live their lives and not be discriminated against. (A separate poll shows support for marriage equality at 63%.)
The Equality Act has broad public support, across party lines, geographies and religious affiliations. According to Public Religion Reseach Institute, eight in 10 Americans favor comprehensive non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ+ people, including 90% of Democrats, 82% of Independents and 66% of Republicans. The legislation has been endorsed by more than 630 organizations, including civil rights, education, health care and faith-based organizations. The passage of the Equality Act is crucial in ending LGBTQ+ discrimination and ensuring equal protections for all individuals.