Connect with us

homepage news

Anti-LGBT forces strike back with religious freedom bills

State lawmakers seek to enable discrimination against same-sex couples



Sally Kern, gay news, Washington Blade
Sally Kern, gay news, Washington Blade

State Rep. Sally Kern (R-Oklahoma City) has introduced anti-gay bills in the state legislature. (Photo public domain)

Amid a series of court rulings in favor of marriage equality, anti-LGBT forces are responding in state legislatures with bills that would allow discrimination to continue against same-sex couples.

The introduction of these bills — which range from allowing businesses to refuse services to same-sex couples to cutting off funds for the purposes of granting marriage licenses — comes as many conservative states are facing the reality of marriage equality delivered through court order and as the U.S. Supreme Court is set to deliver a nationwide ruling on the issue later this year.

Many of these bills, named Religious Freedom Restoration Acts, have the stated purpose of prohibiting the government from burdening an individual’s exercise of religion except to achieve a compelling interest, and only if that burden is the least restrictive means of reaching that interest.

But the wording in such legislation is seen as a thinly veiled attempt to enable discrimination by allowing businesses, such as florists and bakeries in the wedding business, to refuse services to same-sex couples, or by allowing court clerks to refuse to issue them marriage licenses.

Eunice Rho, advocacy and policy counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, said the bills are problematic not only because they would allow discrimination against LGBT people, but also because they are constitutionally suspect.

“Some of these bills single out same-sex couples for discriminatory treatment, and we believe that poses a potential constitutional problem,” Rho said. “But it also obviously violates the principle that you’re being paid by the public, you’re being paid by taxpayer dollars, you should be serving all taxpayers.”

The center stage for these bills is Oklahoma, where lawmakers have introduced no fewer than eight pieces of anti-LGBT legislation at the start of the 2015 legislative session. Marriage equality became legal in the state as a result of a decision striking down the state’s ban on same-sex marriage from the U.S. Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, which the Supreme Court refused to review in October.

Two of these bills were introduced by State Rep. Sally Kern, the anti-LGBT lawmaker who gained notoriety in 2008 when she claimed homosexuality posed a greater danger to the country than terrorism, saying, “Studies show that no society that has totally embraced homosexuality has lasted more than, you know, a few decades. So it’s the death knell of this country.”

According to a coalition of LGBT groups monitoring Oklahoma — the Human Rights Campaign, the National Center for Lesbian Rights and Freedom Oklahoma — the eight bills were submitted just before the filing deadline.

Troy Stevenson, executive director of the statewide LGBT group Freedom Oklahoma, pledged in a statement to defeat each of the bills in partnership with other organizations.

“Our community is under attack, and we are fighting back,” Stevenson said. “We won marriage last year, and in retaliation, a tiny handful of lawmakers have lashed out at us with an unprecedented amount of discriminatory legislation.”

The two bills introduced by Kern are the Freedom to Obtain Conversion Therapy Act, which would legitimize “ex-gay” sexual orientation conversion therapy and allow parents to seek the widely discredited practice for their children, and House Bill 1597, a bill that would allow Oklahoma businesses to deny services and accommodations to “any lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender person, group or association.”

Other bills would allow discrimination against LGBT people in the name of religious freedom. One bill, “Oklahoma Religious Freedom Reformation Act,” would allow individuals the freedom to refuse services based on sexual orientation for religious reasons or to refuse to consider a same-sex marriage as valid.

Another bill, the “Oklahoma Religious Freedom Act,” would prohibit the state from asserting a government interest in requiring a person to take part in a marriage ceremony contrary to a person’s religious beliefs.

Four more bills would undermine the newly achieved right of same-sex couples to wed in the state. The “Preservation of Sovereignty and Marriage Act” would prohibit state and local officials from recognizing or performing same-sex marriages and cut off government funds for issuing or recognizing a same-sex marriage license.  The “Protection of Religious Freedom in Sanctity of Marriage Act” provides a broad carve-out to allow individuals and religious organizations to refuse services to recognize a same-sex marriage.

Another bill, House 1125, seeks to do away with marriage licenses altogether in Oklahoma and instead require court clerks to file marriage certificates that recognize common law marriages or marriage ceremonies. Finally, House Bill 2215 seeks to stigmatize transgender people by requiring them to be designated as transgender on any marriage application and any marriage license.

Marty Rouse, HRC’s national field director, said the bills “are nothing more than despicably vile direct attacks” on LGBT people in Oklahoma.

“It’s astounding that extreme anti-equality politicians are making such drastic attempts to harm LGBT families,” Rouse said. “We call on all fair-minded Oklahomans to stand up for equality and help stop these horrific bills.”

Oklahoma is but one state where anti-LGBT bills have been introduced at the start of the 2015 legislative session. Other legislation has been introduced in states where courts recently made same-sex marriage legal — Colorado, Indiana, South Carolina, Utah, Virginia and Wyoming — and in states where marriage equality may come soon — Georgia, Michigan, Missouri, Mississippi and Texas.

Including Oklahoma, a dozen states have anti-LGBT legislation pending before their state legislatures, according to a list compiled by the American Civil Liberties Union.

Colorado — House Bill 1037 would prohibit public institutions of higher education from denying a religious student group a benefit solely based on the group’s requirement that its leaders adhere to religious beliefs or a standard of conduct, which could enable discrimination against LGBT students.

Georgia — House Bill 29 is a Religious Freedom Restoration Act, although under this bill no employee may assert rights against an employer that isn’t the government.

Indiana — One pending bill, Senate Bill 127, would allow religious organizations contracting with the state to give preference in employment to individuals of a particular religion and require all employees to conform to the tenets of the religion to extent possible under Title VII, which could enable discrimination against LGBT workers.

Two other identical bills, House Bill 1632 and Senate Bill 568, are Religious Freedom Restoration Acts that would also allow individuals to file private litigation if they feel their religious beliefs are burdened.

Michigan — Senate Bill 4 is a Religious Freedom Restoration Act that would broadly define government to include “a person acting under the color of law.”

Missouri — Two identical bills — House Bill 104 and Senate Bill 248 — would prohibit institutions of higher education from denying benefits or discriminating against religious student associations from requiring leaders to adhere to the association’s beliefs or comply with standards of conduct, which could enable discrimination against LGBT students.

Mississippi — House Bill 858 would prohibit a state higher education institution from refusing to grant recognition to a religious student organization on the basis of the religious content of the group’s speech or from conducting internal affairs.

South Carolina — One bill, Senate Bill 116, would allow anyone employed by a judge of probate or clerk of court or any other officer authorized by law to issue a marriage license to refuse same-sex couples if doing so would violate a sincerely held religious belief.

Another bill, House Bill 3032, would prohibit the use of taxpayer funds or government salaries for paying for an activity that includes licensing or support of same-sex marriage. In the event an employee recognizes, grants, or enforces a same-sex marriage license, that person will be no longer eligible for a salary, pension and benefits from the state.

Texas — Two measures, House Joint Resolution 55 and Senate Joint Resolution 10, are constitutional amendments along the lines of a Religious Freedom Restoration Act. For the House version, the term “government” could be a county, municipality or other political subdivision of Texas.

Another bill, House Bill 623, would prohibit taxpayer funds from being used to license or support same-sex marriage. An employee who issues a license to a same-sex couple or recognizes their marriage would forfeit their salary, pension and employee benefits.

Utah — One bill, House Bill 66, would allow a person authorized to solemnize a marriage to refuse if that marriage violates a person’s sincerely held religious beliefs. Another measure, House Joint Resolution 5, is a Religious Freedom Restoration Act in the form of a constitutional amendment, that would allow religious organizations and individuals acting in connection with those religious organization from offering any service or rite that conflicts with their faith.

Virginia — One bill, House Bill 1409, would prevent any public entity from requiring its contractors to abide by non-discrimination policies that are more inclusive than the state law, which would leave out protections for LGBT people. Another bill, House Bill 1414, would allow people seeking to renew a state license to refuse assisting with same-sex marriage if that would violate religious or moral convictions.

Wyoming — House Bill 83 is a Religious Freedom Restoration Act that would enable a burdened party to bring a claim against a “government or person acting under color of state law.” House Bill 26, much like existing law, would enable an ordained minister to refuse to perform a ceremony of marriage.

Another religious freedom bill is expected to be reintroduced in Kansas, although the bill hasn’t been introduced yet. Last year, the Kansas House approved legislation that would enable individuals and business to refuse services for same-sex weddings, but the bill never came up for a vote in the Senate.

And this list doesn’t take into account what bills may emerge at the federal level. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) confirmed to the Washington Blade last week that he plans to introduce a U.S. constitutional amendment that would prohibit states from overturning state marriage laws. Also expected is the Marriage & Religious Freedom Act, which is purportedly aimed at prohibiting discrimination in the tax code against organizations that exercise “religious conscience” against same-sex marriage.

At least one campaign has already emerged with the intent of stopping bills in the Georgia General Assembly. Georgia Unites Against Discrimination has launched with the goal of stopping anti-LGBT bills from passing in the state and to legalize statewide LGBT non-discrimination protections.

Jeff Graham, executive director of Georgia Equality, outlined the goals of the coalition in a statement, saying personal stories will be a component of the work.

“Through these coalition efforts, we will educate, organize and activate the citizens of Georgia to stop this dangerous legislation,” Graham said. “We will highlight the stories of real Georgians as we work to make the case that in our state, discrimination against anyone is wrong, and that includes people who are gay, lesbian or transgender.”

What could make stopping these bills difficult is massive Republican victories in state legislatures as a result of the GOP wave last year. The GOP now controls 68 out of 98 partisan state legislative chambers, which is the highest number in the history of the party, although the Republican presence in legislatures already controlled by the GOP is about the same.

History could prove to be a guide. Last year, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed a Religious Freedom Restoration Act approved by the Republican legislature after a massive outcry in the media and from Republican leaders and LGBT advocates. Similarly, a religious freedom bill approved by the Michigan House during the lame duck session of the legislature never came up in the Senate.

However, passage of another Religious Freedom Restoration Act succeeded in Mississippi, where Gov. Phil Bryant signed a measure into law in April despite objections from those who feared it would legitimize discrimination in the state.

ACLU’s Rho said the failure of these bills last year gives hope they will die this year — even in Republican legislatures — because it demonstrates opposition to them “cuts cleanly across partisan lines.”

“Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed the bill in a very public way in Arizona with very prominent Republicans urging her to do so,” Rho said. “And we have seen in other states allies that you think would naturally be aligned with one party versus the other, such as the business community, really rising in opposition to these kinds of bills. And so, I don’t think the election outcomes of 2014 necessarily determined how the issues will fare, but we are obviously very concerned and will be very, very vigilant about the movement of these bills.”

Continue Reading

homepage news

Top 10 Blade news stories by web traffic

COVID breakthroughs, Equality Act, and anti-trans attacks



Elliot Page created excitement by posting his first photo in swim trunks back in May.

Each year our staff gathers in late December to review the highest trafficked stories of the year and there’s more than a little bit of competitive spirit as we review the results. Here are the top 10 stories by web traffic at  HYPERLINK “” for 2021.

#10: Mark Glaze, gun reform advocate, dies at 51

The sad, tragic story of Glaze’s death captivated readers in November. 

#9: COVID breakthrough infections strike summer tourists visiting Provincetown

This one went viral in July after a COVID outbreak was blamed on gay tourists.

#8: Thank you, Kordell Stewart, for thoughtful response to ‘the rumor’

This opinion piece thanked the former NFL quarterback for writing a personal essay addressing gay rumors. 

#7: Elliot Page tweets; trans bb’s first swim trunks #transjoy #transisbeautiful

The actor created excitement by posting his first photo in swim trunks back in May.

#6: Romney declares opposition to LGBTQ Equality Act

Mitt Romney disappointed activists with his announcement; the Equality Act passed the House but never saw a vote in the Senate.

#5: White House warns state legislatures that passing anti-trans bills is illegal

The year 2021 saw a disturbing trend of GOP-led legislatures attacking trans people.

#4: Lincoln Project’s avowed ignorance of Weaver texts undercut by leaked communications

The Lincoln Project’s leaders, amid a scandal of co-founder John Weaver soliciting sexual favors from young men, have asserted they were unaware of his indiscretions until the Blade obtained electronic communications that called that claim into question.

#3: FOX 5’s McCoy suspended over offensive Tweet

Blake McCoy tweeted that obese people shouldn’t get priority for the COVID vaccine. 

#2: Transgender USAF veteran trapped in Taliban takeover of Kabul

Among the Americans trapped in the suburban areas of Kabul under Taliban control was a transgender government contractor for the U.S. State Department and former U.S. Air Force Sergeant. She was later safely evacuated.

#1: Amid coup chaos, Trump quietly erases LGBTQ protections in adoption, health services

And our most popular story of 2021 was about the Trump administration nixing regulations barring federal grantees in the Department of Health & Human Services from discriminating against LGBTQ people, including in adoption services.

Continue Reading

homepage news

CDC still falling short on LGBTQ data collection for COVID patients: expert



COVID-19 vaccine, gay news, Washington Blade
The CDC is still not issuing guidance to states on LGBTQ data collection among COVID patients.

Despite requests since the start of the COVID pandemic for the U.S. government to enhance data collection for patients who are LGBTQ, the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention is still falling short on issuing nationwide guidance to states on the issue, a leading expert health on the issue told the Blade.

With a renewed focus on COVID infections reaching new heights just before the start of the holidays amid the emergence of Omicron, the absence of any LGBTQ data collection — now across both the Trump and Biden administrations — remains a sore point for health experts who say that information could be used for public outreach.

Sean Cahill, director of Health Policy Research at the Boston-based Fenway Institute, said Wednesday major federal entities and hospitals have been collecting data on whether patients identify as LGBTQ for years — such as the National Health & Nutrition Examination Survey, which has been collecting sexual orientation data since the 1990s — but the CDC hasn’t duplicated that effort for COVID even though the pandemic has been underway for two years.

“It’s not like this is a new idea,” Cahill said. “But for some reason, the pandemic hit, and all of a sudden, we realize how little systematic data we were collecting in our health system. And it’s a real problem because we’re two years into the pandemic almost, and we still don’t know how it’s affecting this vulnerable population that experiences health disparities in other areas.”

The Blade was among the first outlets to report on the lack of efforts by the states to collect data on whether a COVID patient identifies as LGBTQ, reporting in April 2020 on the absence of data even in places with influential LGBTQ communities. The CDC hasn’t responded to the Blade’s requests for nearly two years on why it doesn’t instruct states to collect this data, nor did it respond this week to a request for comment on this article.

Cahill, who has published articles in the American Journal of Public Health on the importance of LGBTQ data collection and reporting in COVID-19 testing, care, and vaccination — said he’s been making the case to the CDC to issue guidance to states on whether COVID patients identify as LGBTQ since June 2020.

Among those efforts, he said, were to include two comments he delivered to the Biden COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force in spring 2021, a letter a coalition of groups sent to the Association of State & Territorial Health Officers asking for states to collect and report SOGI in COVID in December 2020 as well as letters to HHS leadership and congressional leadership in spring and summer 2020 asking for them to take steps to encourage or require SOGI data collection in COVID.

Asked what CDC officials had to say in response when he brought this issue to their attention, Cahill said, “They listen, but they don’t really tell me anything.”

“We’ve been making that case, and to date, as of December 22, 2021, they have not issued guidance, they have not changed the case report form. I hope that they’re in the process of doing that, and maybe we’ll be pleasantly surprised in January, and they’ll come up with something…I really hope that’s true, but right now they’re not doing anything to promote SOGI data collection and reporting in surveillance data.”

Cahill, in an email to the Blade after the initial publication of this article, clarified CDC has indicated guidance on LGBTQ data collection for COVID patients may come in the near future.

“HHS leaders told us this fall that CDC is working on an initiative to expand SOGI data collection,” Cahill said. “We are hopeful that we will see guidance early in 2022. Key people at CDC, including Director Walensky, understand the importance of SOGI data collection given their long history of working on HIV prevention.”

In other issues related to LGBTQ data collection, there has been a history of states resisting federal mandates. The Trump administration, for example, rescinded guidance calling on states to collect information on whether foster youth identified as LGBTQ after complaints from states on the Obama-era process, much to the consternation of LGBTQ advocates who said the data was helpful.

The White House COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force has at least recognized the potential for enhancing LGBTQ data collection efforts. Last month, it published an implementation plan, calling for “an equity-centered approach to data collection, including sufficient funding to collect data for groups that are often left out of data collection (e.g….LGBTQIA+ people).”

The plan also calls for “fund[ing] activities to improve data collection…including tracking COVID-19 related outcomes for people of color and other underserved populations,” and specifically calls for the collection of LGBTQ data.

The importance of collecting LGBTQ data, Cahill said, is based on its potential use in public outreach, including efforts to recognize disparities in health population and to create messaging for outreach, including for populations that may be reluctant to take the vaccine.

“If we see a disparity, we can say: Why is that?” Cahill said. “We could do focus groups of the population — try to understand and then what kind of messages would reassure you and make you feel comfortable getting a vaccine, and we could push those messages out through public education campaigns led by state local health departments led by the federal government.”

The LGBTQ data, Cahill said, could be broken down further to determine if racial and ethnic disparities exist within the LGBTQ population, or whether LGBTQ people are likely to suffer from the disease in certain regions, such as the South.

“We have data showing that lesbian or bisexual women, and transgender people are less likely to be in preventive regular routine care for their health,” Cahill said. “And so if that’s true, there’s a good chance that they’re less likely to know where to get a vaccine, to have a medical professional they trust to talk to about it today.”

Among the leaders who are supportive, Cahill said, is Rachel Levine, assistant secretary for health and the first openly transgender person confirmed by the U.S. Senate for a presidential appointment. Cahill said he raised the issue with her along with other officials at the Department of Health & Human Services three times in the last year.

In her previous role as Pennsylvania secretary of health, Levine led the way and made her state the first in the nation to set up an LGBTQ data collection system for COVID patients.

“So she definitely gets it, and I know she’s supportive of it, but we really need the CDC to act,” Cahill said.

Although the federal government has remained intransigent in taking action, Cahill said the situation has improved among states and counted five states — California, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Nevada and Oregon — in addition to D.C. as among those that have elected to collect data on sexual orientation and gender identity of COVID patients.

However, Cahill said even those data collection efforts are falling short because those jurisdictions have merely been public about collecting the data, but haven’t reported back anything yet.

“Only California has reported data publicly, and the data that they’re reporting is really just the completeness of the data,” Cahill said. “They’re not reporting the data itself…And they’re also just asking people who tests positive. So, if somebody says positive COVID in California, a contact tracer follows up with that individual and asks them a battery of questions, and among the questions that are asked are SOGI questions.”

As a result of these efforts, Cahill said, California has data on the LGBTQ status of COVID patients, but the data is overwhelmingly more complete for the gender identity of these patients rather than their sexual orientation. As of May 2021, California reported that they had sexual orientation data for 9.5 percent of individuals who had died from COVID and 16 percent of people who tested positive, but for gender identity, the data were 99.5 percent.

Continue Reading

homepage news

Equality Act, contorted as a danger by anti-LGBTQ forces, is all but dead

No political willpower to force vote or reach a compromise



Despite having President Biden in the White House and Democratic majorities in both chambers of Congress, efforts to update federal civil rights laws to strengthen the prohibition on discrimination against LGBTQ people by passing the Equality Act are all but dead as opponents of the measure have contorted it beyond recognition.

Political willpower is lacking to find a compromise that would be acceptable to enough Republican senators to end a filibuster on the bill — a tall order in any event — nor is there the willpower to force a vote on the Equality Act as opponents stoke fears about transgender kids in sports and not even unanimity in the Democratic caucus in favor of the bill is present, stakeholders who spoke to the Blade on condition of anonymity said.

In fact, there are no imminent plans to hold a vote on the legislation even though Pride month is days away, which would be an opportune time for Congress to demonstrate solidarity with the LGBTQ community by holding a vote on the legislation.

If the Equality Act were to come up for a Senate vote in the next month, it would not have the support to pass. Continued assurances that bipartisan talks are continuing on the legislation have yielded no evidence of additional support, let alone the 10 Republicans needed to end a filibuster.

“I haven’t really heard an update either way, which is usually not good,” one Democratic insider said. “My understanding is that our side was entrenched in a no-compromise mindset and with [Sen. Joe] Manchin saying he didn’t like the bill, it doomed it this Congress. And the bullying of hundreds of trans athletes derailed our message and our arguments of why it was broadly needed.”

The only thing keeping the final nail from being hammered into the Equality Act’s coffin is the unwillingness of its supporters to admit defeat. Other stakeholders who spoke to the Blade continued to assert bipartisan talks are ongoing, strongly pushing back on any conclusion the legislation is dead.

Alphonso David, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said the Equality Act is “alive and well,” citing widespread public support he said includes “the majority of Democrats, Republicans and independents and a growing number of communities across the country engaging and mobilizing every day in support of the legislation.”

“They understand the urgent need to pass this bill and stand up for LGBTQ people across our country,” David added. “As we engage with elected officials, we have confidence that Congress will listen to the voices of their constituents and continue fighting for the Equality Act through the lengthy legislative process.  We will also continue our unprecedented campaign to grow the already-high public support for a popular bill that will save lives and make our country fairer and more equal for all. We will not stop until the Equality Act is passed.”

Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), chief sponsor of the Equality Act in the Senate, also signaled through a spokesperson work continues on the legislation, refusing to give up on expectations the legislation would soon become law.

“Sen. Merkley and his staff are in active discussions with colleagues on both sides of the aisle to try to get this done,” McLennan said. “We definitely see it as a key priority that we expect to become law.”

A spokesperson Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), who had promised to force a vote on the Equality Act in the Senate on the day the U.S. House approved it earlier this year, pointed to a March 25 “Dear Colleague” letter in which he identified the Equality Act as one of several bills he’d bring up for a vote.

Despite any assurances, the hold up on the bill is apparent. Although the U.S. House approved the legislation earlier this year, the Senate Judiciary Committee hasn’t even reported out the bill yet to the floor in the aftermath of the first-ever Senate hearing on the bill in March. A Senate Judiciary Committee Democratic aide, however, disputed that inaction as evidence the Equality Act is dead in its tracks: “Bipartisan efforts on a path forward are ongoing.”

Democrats are quick to blame Republicans for inaction on the Equality Act, but with Manchin withholding his support for the legislation they can’t even count on the entirety of their caucus to vote “yes” if it came to the floor. Progressives continue to advocate an end to the filibuster to advance legislation Biden has promised as part of his agenda, but even if they were to overcome headwinds and dismantle the institution needing 60 votes to advance legislation, the Equality Act would likely not have majority support to win approval in the Senate with a 50-50 party split.

The office of Manchin, who has previously said he couldn’t support the Equality Act over concerns about public schools having to implement the transgender protections applying to sports and bathrooms, hasn’t responded to multiple requests this year from the Blade on the legislation and didn’t respond to a request to comment for this article.

Meanwhile, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who declined to co-sponsor the Equality Act this year after having signed onto the legislation in the previous Congress, insisted through a spokesperson talks are still happening across the aisle despite the appearances the legislation is dead.

“There continues to be bipartisan support for passing a law that protects the civil rights of Americans, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity,” said Annie Clark, a Collins spokesperson. “The Equality Act was a starting point for negotiations, and in its current form, it cannot pass. That’s why there are ongoing discussions among senators and stakeholders about a path forward.”

Let’s face it: Anti-LGBTQ forces have railroaded the debate by making the Equality Act about an end to women’s sports by allowing transgender athletes and danger to women in sex-segregated places like bathrooms and prisons. That doesn’t even get into resolving the issue on drawing the line between civil rights for LGBTQ people and religious freedom, which continues to be litigated in the courts as the U.S. Supreme Court is expected any day now to issue a ruling in Fulton v. City of Philadelphia to determine if foster care agencies can reject same-sex couples over religious objections.

For transgender Americans, who continue to report discrimination and violence at high rates, the absence of the Equality Act may be most keenly felt.

Mara Keisling, outgoing executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, disputed any notion the Equality Act is dead and insisted the legislation is “very much alive.”

“We remain optimistic despite misinformation from the opposition,” Keisling said. “NCTE and our movement partners are still working fruitfully on the Equality Act with senators. In fact, we are gaining momentum with all the field organizing we’re doing, like phone banking constituents to call their senators. Legislating takes time. Nothing ever gets through Congress quickly. We expect to see a vote during this Congress, and we are hopeful we can win.”

But one Democratic source said calls to members of Congress against the Equality Act, apparently coordinated by groups like the Heritage Foundation, have has outnumbered calls in favor of it by a substantial margin, with a particular emphasis on Manchin.

No stories are present in the media about same-sex couples being kicked out of a restaurant for holding hands or transgender people for using the restroom consistent with their gender identity, which would be perfectly legal in 25 states thanks to the patchwork of civil rights laws throughout the United States and inadequate protections under federal law.

Tyler Deaton, senior adviser for the American Unity Fund, which has bolstered the Republican-led Fairness for All Act as an alternative to the Equality Act, said he continues to believe the votes are present for a compromise form of the bill.

“I know for a fact there is a supermajority level of support in the Senate for a version of the Equality Act that is fully protective of both LGBTQ civil rights and religious freedom,” Deaton said. “There is interest on both sides of the aisle in getting something done this Congress.”

Deaton, however, didn’t respond to a follow-up inquiry on what evidence exists of agreeing on this compromise.

Biden has already missed the goal he campaigned on in the 2020 election to sign the Equality Act into law within his first 100 days in office. Although Biden renewed his call to pass the legislation in his speech to Congress last month, as things stand now that appears to be a goal he won’t realize for the remainder of this Congress.

Nor has the Biden administration made the Equality Act an issue for top officials within the administration as it pushes for an infrastructure package as a top priority. One Democratic insider said Louisa Terrell, legislative affairs director for the White House, delegated work on the Equality Act to a deputy as opposed to handling it herself.

To be sure, Biden has demonstrated support for the LGBTQ community through executive action at an unprecedented rate, signing an executive order on day one ordering federal agencies to implement the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last year in Bostock v. Clayton County to the fullest extent possible and dismantling former President Trump’s transgender military ban. Biden also made historic LGBTQ appointments with the confirmation of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Rachel Levine as assistant secretary of health.

A White House spokesperson insisted Biden’s team across the board remains committed to the Equality Act, pointing to his remarks to Congress.

“President Biden has urged Congress to get the Equality Act to his desk so he can sign it into law and provide long overdue civil rights protections to LGBTQ+ Americans, and he remains committed to seeing this legislation passed as quickly as possible,” the spokesperson said. “The White House and its entire legislative team remains in ongoing and close coordination with organizations, leaders, members of Congress, including the Equality Caucus, and staff to ensure we are working across the aisle to push the Equality Act forward.”

But at least in the near-term, that progress will fall short of fulfilling the promise of updating federal civil rights law with the Equality Act, which will mean LGBTQ people won’t be able to rely on those protections when faced with discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

Continue Reading

Follow Us @washblade

Sign Up for Blade eBlasts