House Democrats Pass the Equality Act to Protect LGBTQ Rights

House Democrats on Friday unanimously passed the Equality Act, a historic milestone for the nation’s most comprehensive bill to protect LGBTQ individuals from discrimination in the workplace, housing, service and public accommodations.

This is the first time the House of Representatives, or any chamber of Congress for that matter, has passed a comprehensive LGBTQ civil rights bill that would establish clear protections nationwide for LGBTQ individuals, according to the Human Rights Campaign.

The bill was passed with a 236–173 vote, with Democrats voting unanimously in support of the bill and eight House Republicans crossing party lines to support it, BuzzFeed News reports.

Known as H.R.5, the Equality Act expands the Civil Rights Act of 1964, explicitly banning discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation in housing, employment, finances, schools, and public accommodations.

If passed and signed into law, the Equality Act would elevate the LGBTQ rights to the status of other protected classes, such as race.  

“Despite significant advances, LGBT people across the country remain vulnerable to discrimination on a daily basis and too often have little recourse,” Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI), the lead sponsor of the bill, said. “It is past time for the Equality Act to be written into law.”

The bill was a top priority for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), who said the bill would help to bring the United States “closer to equal liberty and justice for all.”

“It was exciting. It’s historic. It’s not only about what it means in the personal lives of people – and that would be a sufficient reason to do it, but what it means for America – the ever expanding freedoms in our country. And that’s the history of our country – to ever expand freedom,” Pelosi told ABC News following the vote Friday.

Several Republican critics have vociferously opposed the bill, saying it would harm religious freedoms.

Republicans were alarmed that the bill is exempt from the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which states religious exercise cannot be burdened unless the government has a compelling reason.

“It would allow the government to force its rigid and unyielding fist inside the church,” Rep. Ross Spano (R-FL) said, adding that it would encroach on the rights of religious business owners from objecting to serve customers based on moral concerns.

“It would deliver a crushing blow to the base of the tree of religious liberty,” Spano said.

“It’s vague and circular definition of gender identity will lead only to uncertainty, litigation, and harm to individuals and organizations that will be forced to comply with a law the authors don’t even seem to understand,” Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC) said on the House floor Friday. “This is a classic example of passing something now and figuring out what it actually means later ... If the devil is in the details, we’re in for a lot of devilish surprises.”

Despite the fact that the Equality Act has unwavering support from House Democrats, the bill faces slim chances in the Republican-controlled Senate.

“At the moment, I have no scheduling announcements regarding Senate action,” a spokesperson for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) told BuzzFeed News on Thursday.