U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) has become the first Republican co-sponsor in the U.S. Senate of comprehensive legislation aimed at prohibiting discrimination against LGBT people. The news was first reported by Buzzfeed.
Kirk confirmed in a statement to the Washington Blade he would co-sponsor the Equality Act, which would amend the Civil Rights Act and the Fair Housing Act to prohibit anti-LGBT discrimination in all areas of federal civil rights law.
“Discrimination on the basis of being gay is against the law in Illinois and should be against the law nationwide,” Kirk said.
Kirk’s announcement comes days after Rep. Bob Dold (R-Ill.) announced he would become the first Republican co-sponsor of the legislation in the U.S. House. Prior to their announcements, the bills enjoyed support from only Democrats in both chambers of Congress.
Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement Kirk “has once again proven his leadership” by becoming the first Republican co-sponsor of the Equality Act.
“His support for the Equality Act sends a strong message that fairness and equality are bipartisan values,” Griffin added. “It also reflects the view of the overwhelming majority of all Americans who believe that everyone, including LGBT people, should be able to have a fair chance to earn a living, provide for their families, and live free from fear of discrimination.”
The legislation is sponsored by Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) in the U.S. House and Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) in the U.S. Senate.
Kirk is facing a considerable challenge in retaining his seat in the upcoming election against Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), who’s a co-sponsor of the Equality Act in the U.S. House.
The Illinois Republican is considered a supporter of LGBT rights. He signed a friend-of-the-court brief urging the U.S. Supreme Court to rule for same-sex marriage nationwide, was one of 11 Republican senators to vote for granting married same-sex couples full access to Social Security and veterans benefits, and in 2013 was an original co-sponsor of ENDA.
The lack of Republican support for the bill upon introduction in July was controversial. After all, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act has had original Republican co-sponsors right off the bat in years past.
Gregory Angelo, president of Log Cabin Republican, responded when asked whether his organization would support the Equality Act now that it has Republican co-sponsors with an unequivocal “no.”
“The Equality Act remains imperfect legislation with zero chance of passage,” Angelo said. “It’s also a purely partisan bill, as evidenced by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee actually declaring they would pour even more resources into defeating Congressman Dold this November after he declared his support for the Equality Act last week. I don’t expect the DSCC to react any differently to Sen. Kirk.”
Angelo emphasized when Dold announced support for the Equality Act last week that no Republican criticized him, only the official congressional arm of the Democratic National Committee.
“If there is any silver lining here, it is that Congressman Dold has vowed to heavily amend the Equality Act to make it more palatable for passage by common-sense conservatives, and provided colleagues on his side of the aisle with a cautionary tale: If you’re tempted to co-sponsor the Equality Act to appeal to Democrats, you are in for a rude awakening,” Angelo added.