The 2016 Election: Know the facts about the Equality Act

Background

The Equality Act of 2015, a bill introduced by Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI), would, if passed, expand the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Act would ban discrimination in various areas of people's lives, including employment, public education, housing, credit, and more on the basis of sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity.

If passed, the Equality Act would be a more comprehensive alternative to the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA). ENDA was a bill that had been introduced in various iterations for many years, but which never passed into law. Earlier verions only offered protections on the basis of sexual orientation, excluding protections on gender identity. The most recent version to be introduced was amended to include an exemption clause allowing religious organizations to continue anti-LGBT discrimination based on the aforementioned characteristics. These additions, in light of various so-called "religious freedom" laws proposed around the country, signified the need for a more comprehensive piece of legislation that could provide legal protections for LGBT people in all aspects of life. 

There is great need for the Equality Act. 31 states still do not have full, inclusive protections for the LGBT community. Despite marriage equality being extended nationwide, LGBT people can still face legal discrimination in employment, housing, and public accomodations. 

A recent survey shows that 78% of potential voters would support protecting anti-LGBT discrimination, while 59% of voters "are less likely to support a candidate for president who opposes protecting [LGBT] people in the work place."

Pitfalls to avoid

Marriage equality was a milestone, not a finish line. A commonly held misconception is that marriage equality is the same as full LGBT equality and acceptance. That is not the case, as the need for the Equality Act shows. Marriage equality is only one facet in the fight for full LGBT equality and acceptance.

Avoid overstating what protections exist for LGBT employees. A common myth is that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) protects the LGBT community from workplace discrimination. However, EEOC rulings are not federal law, and thus do not apply to every employer.

Do not pit employement protections against religious liberty. Anti-LGBT activists commonly claim the Equality Act would "further erode religious liberty… and harm the public perception of those who believe in traditional or biblical sexual morality," as explained in an essay penned in Public Discourse. The Act, however, does not include any changes to the religious freedoms already protected by the First Amendment.

 

Resources for journalists

 

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