September 20, 2016 at 10:47 am EDT | by Chris Johnson
Sen. Nelson becomes latest to co-sponsor Equality Act
Equality Act, Bill Nelson, gay news, Washington Blade

Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) is latest to announce support for the Equality Act. (Photo public domain)

Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) has become the latest member of Congress to co-sponsor comprehensive LGBT rights legislation known as the Equality Act.

The Florida senator, who’s generally considered a moderate, on Monday quietly became a co-sponsor of the bill, which would add prohibitions on anti-LGBT discrimination to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Jay Brown, a spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign, commending the senator in a statement to the Washington Blade for supporting the Equality Act, citing the tragic mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Nelson’s home state.

“In the tragedy of Orlando, there were survivors who worried first for their lives and second for their jobs,” Brown said. “The reality is LGBTQ people still lack explicit federal non-discrimination protections when it comes to our jobs, our housing, our education and more. The Equality Act would change that and we’re grateful for Sen. Nelson’s support for the bill and LGBTQ Floridians.”

The legislation, introduced by gay Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) in the U.S. House and Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) in the U.S. Senate, now has 177 co-sponsors in the House and 43 in the Senate. The remaining four Democrats who don’t co-sponsor the legislation in the U.S. Senate are Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.). In the U.S. House, 16 Democrats don’t co-sponsor the legislation.

Nelson has been a reliable vote in support for LGBT rights: His record includes votes for “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal and against the anti-gay Federal Marriage Amendment. But the moderate has generally lagged behind others. In 2013, Nelson was among the last Democratic senators to declare support for same-sex marriage and become a co-sponsor of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

The senator becomes a co-sponsor of the Equality Act on the heels of Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen’s (R-Fla.) decision to become a co-sponsor of the legislation in the U.S. House. The new co-sponsorships come as the Human Rights Campaign is preparing ahead of Election Day its biennial congressional scorecard, which will likely dock lawmakers points for not co-sponsoring the Equality Act.

The Blade has placed a request in with Nelson’s office seeking comment on what issue regarding the Equality Act was resolved enabling him to co-sponsor the legislation at this time.

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

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