The Equality Act, an historic, comprehensive LGBT civil rights bill, was introduced in both the Senate and the House last week. The bill will expand the 1964 Civil Rights Act and other laws to include protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. It also marks a 180-degree shift in seeking civil rights protections for LGBT people, following the historic Supreme Court win on marriage equality.
"It was very exciting, we were able to introduce a bill in the House and the Senate that will ensure that LGBT people are not discriminated against in housing, in public accommodations, in employment, in education, federal funding," the openly gay Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), who introduced the bill in the House, told me in an interview on SiriusXM Progress.
For over 20 years, advocates in Washington sought only a narrow employment bill — the Employment Non-Discrimination Act — with a broad religious exemption. But Cicilline said that with the rapid shift in public opinion in recent years, it was time to demand full equality with no broad exemptions.
“The idea of approaching this in a piecemeal way, which is sort of the way we’d been thinking about it in the past, is no longer something people are willing to accept nor, should they be,” he said. “[M]embers of our community are entitled to full equality. And fully equality means you do not discriminate based someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity.”
Cicilline acknowledges it will be a tough slog moving such an expansive bill in a Republican-controlled Congress that has been hostile to LGBT rights, but said there’s no other choice but to make the case and move forward.
“It’s very exciting," he exclaimed. "Now the hard work begins to persuade the rest of our colleagues to become co-sponsors and support passage."