Polis, the most senior openly gay member of the U.S. House, offered up the Equality Act as an amendment during the House Committee on Education & The Workforce’s consideration of the Republican-crafted Protecting Local Business Act, which is anti-union legislation for small businesses.
“It might be tempting to consider the issue of LGBT rights settled after the Supreme Court’s historic ruling on marriage equality earlier this year,” Polis said. “While that was an incredible victory for anyone in this country who values equality and individual freedom, marriage equality and full federal equality are two very different things.”
Making the case the committee should be focused more issue likes equal pay and ensuring the right to collective bargaining, Polis cited continued discrimination faced by LGBT people throughout the country, saying it’s “not a theoretical concern.”
“It causes real harm, real hardship, reduces the efficiency of the economy and productivity every day,” Polis said.
After bringing up the amendment, Rep. David Roe (R-Tenn.) raised a point of order the amendment wasn’t germane to larger bill, an assertion with which Chairman John Kline (R-Minn.) agreed by ruling in favor of Tennessee lawmaker. Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.), a co-sponsor of the Equality Act, sought to challenge that determination, but the committee tabled the appeal by voice vote.
In a statement to the Washington Blade, Polis objected to the idea the Equality Act wasn’t germane to the matter at hand before the committee.
“The committee’s stated goals in moving the so-called ‘Protecting Local Business Opportunity Act’ were to grow our economy and create jobs,” Polis said. “Unfortunately, that bill wouldn’t do either of those things, so my amendment attempted to substitute it for one that would. Discrimination is an economic inefficiency, and it is in our economy’s best interest that we work to put a stop to it. And beyond that, the Equality Act addresses several problems that our committee should be concerned with but has sadly neglected, such as the problem that LGBT students are still bullied in schools throughout the country, and the problem that medical professionals can still refuse to treat LGBT families. I take extreme exception to the idea that equality for LGBT Americans is somehow non-germane to the work our committee should be doing.”
Introduced by Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) in the House and Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) in the Senate in July, the Equality Act seeks to amend all areas of federal civil rights law to include a prohibition on LGBT discrimination in employment, federal programs, housing, jury service, credit, education and public accommodations.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated Polis is the most senior openly member of Congress. That would be U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.). The Blade regrets the error.