The Equality Act would expand the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to give equal protections to LGBT Americans.

WASHINGTON -- Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton on Thursday came out in favor of new legislation that would provide comprehensive civil rights protections to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals.

Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) introduced the Equality Act on Thursday, marking the next major fight for the LGBT community after the Supreme Court legalized marriage equality last month. The legislation would amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to add sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of protected classes, which currently consists of race, color, sex, religion and national origin.

In other words, the bill would protect LGBT people nationwide from discrimination in credit, education, employment, housing, federal financial assistance, jury service and public accommodations.

The legislation already has 40 co-sponsors in the Senate and 155 in the House -- all Democrats. As its authors have acknowledged, the bill has little chance of passing in the current GOP-controlled Congress, but they hope its introduction will start a dialogue that will eventually lead to passage.

The Equality Act also fills some other longstanding gaps in the Civil Rights Act.

Title II of the 1964 law, for example, bars discrimination in public accommodations -- businesses like restaurants and movie theaters -- on the basis of race, color, religion and national origin. So, for instance, a restaurant can't turn a diner away just because she happens to be black.

But the law doesn't prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex -- even though sex discrimination is barred in many other sections of the law. The Equality Act would add sex, along with sexual orientation and gender identity, to all areas of the Civil Rights Act.

The bill would also widen the definition of a public accommodation. Currently, the list reflects what was popular in 1964, specifying that places like a "lunch counter" or a "soda fountain" can't discriminate. The Equality Act would broaden the category to reflect modern times by covering nearly every entity that provides goods, services or programs.

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