With expectations of a “blue” wave in the congressional mid-terms and good chances Democrats will retake control of the U.S. House, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has signaled that comprehensive LGBT non-discrimination legislation will be a top priority if she becomes speaker.
Speaking at an event Tuesday at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, Pelosi identified the Equality Act as a personal goal in wide-ranging remarks about her plans for the next Congress.
“It isn’t in our ‘For The People’ agenda because it doesn’t get that specific, but there’s one more because it’s personal for me that I really want to do, and it’s called the Equality Act,” Pelosi said. “The Equality Act expands ending discrimination against LGBTQ people and women and adding that to the Civil Rights Act.”
Other priorities identified by Pelosi were a campaign finance reform package, expanded background checks for gun purchases and legislation to protect young, undocumented immigrants known as DREAMers from deportation.
Drew Hammill, a Pelosi spokesperson, told the Washington Blade the Equality Act will be a “top priority” and receive a low bill number from 1 to 10 should they have a majority, which will designate its importance.
“In the House, the majority will signal a piece of legislation is a top priority by assigning it a bill number between 1 and 10,” Hammill said. “Leader Pelosi has decided the Equality Act will get one of these priority bill numbers, indicating its importance to House Democrats.”
As an example of the importance a low bill number has for legislation, House Republicans designated the tax reform bill, the Tax Cuts & Jobs Act, as H.R. 1. It remains the most substantial piece of legislation passed by the 115th Congress.
The timing for when the Equality Act would come to the House floor remains uncertain. Hammill said he doesn’t have anything specific at this time for the timing of floor consideration for legislation, but a designation of top priority means “early in the year.”
The office of Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), on the other hand, didn’t respond to multiple requests from the Blade on the timing for the Equality Act should he replace Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) as majority leader.
Introduced by Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) in the House and Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) in the Senate, the Equality Act would amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Fair Housing Act to ban anti-LGBT discrimination in employment, housing, public accommodations, jury service, education, federal programs and credit.
The bill also seeks to update federal law to include sex in the list of protected classes in public accommodation in addition to expanding the definition of public accommodations to include retail stores, banks, transportation services and health care services. Further, the Equality Act would establish that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act — a 1994 law aimed at protecting religious liberty — can’t be used to enable anti-LGBT discrimination.
Stephen Peters, a spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign, responded to Pelosi’s signal the Equality Act would be a high priority by emphasizing the need for the legislation.
“Discrimination is a real and persistent problem for far too many LGBTQ Americans, and more than 50 percent of LGBTQ Americans live in states that lack LGBTQ-inclusive statewide protections,” Peters said. “It’s imperative that Congress end this patchwork of protections by passing the Equality Act — crucially important federal legislation that would finally add clear, comprehensive non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people to our nation’s civil rights laws.”