July 20, 2015 at 10:51 pm EDT | by Chris Johnson
Comprehensive LGBT rights bill coming Thursday
Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) is planning to introduce the Equality Act. (Blade file photo by Michael Key).

Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) is planning to introduce the Equality Act. (Blade file photo by Michael Key).

A bill that would explicitly ban anti-LGBT discrimination in all areas of civil rights law is set for introduction in both chambers of Congress on Thursday, the Washington Blade has learned.

Capitol Hill sources said lead sponsors Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) will introduce the legislation on Thursday and hold a news conference at noon on the legislation on the Senate side of the U.S. Capitol.

According to a “Dear Colleague” letter dated July 20 and obtained by the Washington Blade, the legislation intends to prohibit anti-LGBT discrimination in seven areas: credit, education, employment, federal funding, housing, jury service and public accommodations.

The name of the legislation is the Equality Act, which is the same as legislation introduced more than 40 years ago by the late Rep. Bella Abzug of New York City. The bill, which was the first-ever gay rights measure introduced in Congress, would have amended the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to include sexual orientation.

In his letter to colleagues, Cicilline makes the case that although the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of marriage equality nationwide LGBT people in most states “still lack basic legal protections against discrimination.”

“Every day, millions of LGBT Americans face the danger of real discrimination and sometimes even violence because of their sexual orientation or gender identity,” Cicilline said. “In most states, a same-sex couple can get married on Saturday, post pictures on Facebook on Sunday, and then risk being fired from their job or kicked out of their apartment on Monday.”

Lawmakers had sought as late as early this year to introduce the legislation in the spring, but the legislative session proceeded into June and July without introduction. The supporters of the bill are planning to introduce the bill just weeks before lawmakers adjourn for August recess.

Questions remain about which lawmakers will support the measure. Sources familiar with Capitol Hill said they weren’t expecting any initial Republican co-sponsors, but the “Dear Colleague” letter from Cicilline says lawmakers have until Thursday at noon to sign on as original co-sponsors.

The offices of Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), who’ve supported pro-LGBT legislation in the past, haven’t respond to a request for comment for months on whether they’d support the bill.

In April, Cicilline lamented not being able to find Republican co-sponors for the planned legislation during a conference call with reporters about a separate resolution against anti-LGBT discrimination.

“I think it’s clear where the Democrats stand on this, but I think we’re all hopeful that we’ll be able to bring this effort forward in a bipartisan way,” Cicilline said at the time. “We’re not in a position yet to say that’s the case, but, obviously, I’m going to continue to do outreach, as I know Sen. Merkley is going on the Senate side to try to make this a bipartisan effort. But we won’t know that, obviously until the bill is introduced.”

Another question is whether the legislation will consist of amending the Civil Rights Act and the Fair Housing Act to include sexual orientation and gender identity, or some kind of separate legislation that would achieve comprehensive non-discrimination protections in another way. If it’s the latter, questions remain about whether disparate impact claims would be allowed in the legislation, which have given Republicans who support civil rights laws heartburn in the past.

According to sources familiar with the bill, those questions were thorny issues as late as this month as lawmakers sought to introduce the legislation before they left for August recess.

In a June op-ed piece for The Advocate, co-directors of GetEQUAL Heather Cronk and Angela Peoples, said amending the Civil Rights Act to include sexual orientation and gender identity isn’t the right approach for comprehensive LGBT legislation.

“On the surface, this is a good thing,” Cronk and Peoples wrote. “However, there is a very real possibility that amendments will be introduced on the Senate floor by the likes of Ted Cruz or Tom Cotton or a whole host of other right-wing lawmakers that not only strip the bill of its intended protections, but also gut the civil rights laws being amended.”

The offices of Cicilline and Merkley haven’t responded to repeated requests for comment on the nature of the bill or the timing for introduction.

The expected introduction of the Equality Act comes one week after the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission determined that anti-gay workplace discrimination is already prohibited under the gender protections of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and three years after the agency made the same determination for transgender workplace discrimination.

Chai Feldblum, a lesbian member of the commission who led the way for the decision, said in a Q&A with the Washington Blade that adding sexual orientation and gender identity to employment law is still necessary because it would provide “absolutely certainty” anti-LGBT discrimination is prohibited in the event courts disagree with EEOC.

Most observers expect the Equality Act won’t see any movement this Congress given the body’s current makeup, which consists of its largest Republican majority since the Truman administration.

Still, an amendment in the House applying President Obama’s executive order prohibiting anti-LGBT workplace discrimination to federal housing spending passed as part of a spending bill. In the Senate, pro-LGBT amendments on multiple occasions have received votes in which more than a majority of senators have voted “yes,” but they’ve still failed because they couldn’t reach the 60-vote threshold necessary for passage.

If any legislation related to LGBT issues sees movement, it may be the First Amendment Defense Act, a religious freedom bill seen to enable anti-LGBT discrimination.

Following its introduction in June, support for the bill — introduced by Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho) in the House and Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) in the Senate — has steadily risen. The bill has 130 co-sponsors in the House and 36 co-sponsors in the Senate. A committee markup was initially scheduled this week, but has since been cancelled.

As a third alternative, moderate Republicans led by Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.) have proposed a compromise bill that purports to provide LGBT non-discrimination and religious freedom protections. Shawn Millan, a Dent spokesperson, said Monday he doesn’t yet have a date for introduction.

The proposal consists of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and amending the Fair Housing Act to include LGBT protections. At the same time, the bill would affirm non-profits won’t lose their tax-exempt status for opposing same-sex marriage and express the sense of Congress the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act prohibits the nationwide ruling in favor of same-sex marriage from substantially burdening the free exercise of religion.

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

  • Excellent! Thank you Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) for your support!

  • Just another attack on the Constitution that was founded on Christian principles that will be tossed aside in favour of a ‘let’s do what is right in our own eyes’. Satan is rearing his ugly head and what we are seeing are people influenced by demonic spirits saying “move over God, religious institutions, family and culture, for I am after your souls because they are eternal”.

    • BS! First, we are governed by secular laws not biblical ones. Second, your interpretation of God and how he feels about GLBT isn’t universal.
      The United Church of Christ for example accepts GLBT as they are not as you want them to be.

      The only ugly head rearing is that of social conservatives! You want the government to stay out of your lives but have no problem interfering in the lives of others when it suits you!

      For people like you, it’s always a zero sum game. Liberty, justice and equality is for ALL Americans NOT just a Christian conservative elite!

    • GM -What lunacy! The only real attack occurring is the one perpetrated on other human beings for being brave enough to be true to themselves instead of being driven by fear. Do us all a favor and spend a bit more time making sure that your understanding of history is based on fact and not scary ghost stories. Think with the BRAIN that you have been gifted with. Fear of imaginary boogey-critters isn’t helping.

    • The Constitution was not founded on Christian principles. It was founded on 18th Century Enlightenment principles, as well as on Roman Law. Satan is the evil men do. Satan is mankind at its worse. And hiding behind a religious rule book doesn’t change that. It’s never been “move over God” in our secular society. You want a “God” ruled country, go to the Middle East.

      • I couldn’t agree more! Instead of the religious right and the extreme conservative Republicans being so consumed by the glbt community and the rights that they deserve in line with the U.S. constitution.

        They should concern themselves with the radical religion of Muslims. They’re religions only goal is to be the world dominant religion. It’s not my opinion, it’s written in the muslin Koran.

        In my honest opinion the only reason evangelical anti gay religious wackos like radical Islam is because they love to murder gays and do it on a daily basis. I’m sure if the anti gay groups in the U.S. could get away with it they would also murder all the gays.

        • Boldly stated. I’m sure you’ll get blowback from this, but I agree. We do have a segment of misguided Christians (not all Christians for sure) that would love nothing better than to establish a repressive theocracy in this country. They must be frustrated that they can’t bring back the torture devices of the Inquisition and the witch burnings of Colonial America.

    • Let me intellectually inform you of the facts you religious zealot.

      The men that wrote the constitution weren’t Christians. In fact most of them did not practice any religion or an alternative religion to Christianity. They didn’t intend the constitution to follow the holy bible or Christ.

      Thomas Jefferson says it very well that people minds should evolve with the times. He was not a Christian. The whole reason for the freedom of religion in the constitution is to ensure that not only one religion can dominate. However, the Christian religion including you, think it’s your God given right to condemn others that think and are different from you.

      I’m a true Christian because I choose to follow Christ and his love towards others. He surrounded himself with those that were condemned by the society around them.

      Yes, I’m a gay man with a husband and I believe Christ brought us together. I don’t hate anyone. But I will stand up against someone like you that feels the need to prothltize your religion on others.

      Do yourself a favor and educate yourself on what the authors of the U.S. constitution really stood for and what their religious beliefs truly were before you start spouting off about things that are inaccurate.

  • You know that religious conservatives will oppose this bill and try and bottle it up indefinitely from getting a fair up and down vote while introducing their own legislation which the GOP will allow a vote on to give them “special” rights. Religious freedom does not trump GLBT rights!
    We may need to accept religious exemptions to get the bill into law. The all or nothing strategy of some activists gets us nowhere. We don’t need to work for religious institutions or go to religious universities for example. We have alternatives. Let them have their space in the religious sphere while not allowing them to discriminate in the secular!
    Why would we want the bill to include jury service? Who like serving on juries exactly? Most people dread it and want to get out of it. However, if you mean it’s about being able to serve on Juries if the defendant is gay, that’s another issue. O.J. Simpson was allowed African-American Jurors, but a gay person might be excluded from hearing a case involving gays with the pretext of being biased.

  • RIP – Freedom Of Religion & Freedom to live & raise children with morals.

  • what kind of god denies LOVE? a weak, evil, feeble one

    Loving, all-inclusive, helpful, profitable marijuana and hemp companies can’t even get tax status….

    yet discriminating, freedom denying hate groups hiding behind religion and “religious freedom” are TAX EXEMPT?…..

    …and still no LGBT protections in the workplace, time to change that….

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