May 10, 2019 at 1:52 pm EDT | by Chris Johnson
House Republican seeks to change name of Equality Act to ‘Forfeiting Women’s Rights Act’
Rep. Debbie Lesko (R-Ariz.) seeks to change then name of the Equality Act to the “Forfeiting Women’s Rights Act” (Photo by Gage Skidmore via Wikimedia Commons)

With a vote on the Equality Act expected next week in the U.S. House, Republicans are proposing a slew of anti-LGBT amendments on floor consideration of the measure.

The distinction for the most condescending and superficial amendment goes to Rep. Debbie Lesko (R-Ariz.), who proposed an amendment to change the Equality Act to to the “Forfeiting Women’s Rights Act.”

A total of 34 amendments were submitted Friday to the House Rules Committee, which will evaluate the measures during a committee session and determine which are eligible for a vote on the floor. Each of the amendments was posted on the committee website Friday.

Republicans proposed 28 of those amendments, many of which are anti-trans in nature or seek to broaden the religious exemption in the bill to allow anti-LGBT discrimination. The remaining six amendments, proposed Democrats, offered tweaks to the legislation, some to the findings section to demonstrate the persistence of anti-LGBT discrimination.

Because the House Rules Committee is always packed with the majority party, none of the Republican amendments are likely to come up on the floor. (If for some strange reason they did, the Democratic majority would likely vote them down.)

In addition to the amendment seeking to change the name of the Equality Act, Lesko proposed other anti-LGBT amendments seeking to alter the Equality Act in more functional ways:

* One, co-sponsored by Rep. Mike Johnson (R-La.), changes the Equality Act to state “nothing in this Act or any amendment made by this Act may be construed to grant or secure any right relating to abortion or the provision or funding thereof.”

* Another seeks to ensure “parents’ custody of their child is not threatened by them simply questioning their child’s gender identity decisions and changes.”

* Another “clarifies that nothing in this bill can require a place of public accommodation to be required to convert any space separated on the basis of sex to a separation on the basis of gender identity.”

Other amendments attempt to expand the religious exemption in the Equality Act. Currently, the Equality Act has the same exemption that exists for race and other protected classes under the Civil Rights Act. The bill also prohibits anti-LGBT discrimination under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a 1993 law intended for religious minorities more recently invoked as an excuse for allowing anti-LGBT discrimination.

Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas), who has a long anti-LGBT record in Congress, proposed an amendment that would restore the application of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, making anti-LGBT discrimination possible under that law. Fourteen of Gohmert’s Republican colleagues co-sponsored the amendment.

One amendment proposed by Rep. John Curtis (R-Utah) “permits safeguards for religious educational institutions to limit the occupancy of housing that it owns to persons of the same religion or to those who adhere to its religious beliefs.” The measure appears to be an attempt to allow religious schools, like Brigham Young University, to deny housing intended for married couples to LGBT families.

Another amendment proposed by Curtis “states that places of public accommodation shall not apply to houses of worship or religious educational institutions.” Yet another “permits safeguards for religious educational institutions to enforce religious standards in admissions criteria.” That seems aimed at allowing religious schools to deny admissions to students for being LGBT, much like Immanuel Christian School, where second lady Karen Pence teaches.

Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.) proposed two religious freedom amendments. One “ensures that anyone working in the chaplaincy of any service branch of the United States military is fully protected under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.” Another “ensures that any religious organization – whether it is a corporation, association, or society – is fully protected under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.”

Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R-N.C.) proposed an amendment that “ensures that the exemptions in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 for religious employers remain intact.”

Another amendment proposed by Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.) seeks to ensure “nothing in this Act restricts the free exercise of religion.” (The effect of that amendment would be neutral because under the First Amendment, Congress may pass no law compromising that principle.)

Rep. Ann Wagner (R-Mo.) submitted an amendment on similar lines that states “nothing in the Equality Act shall be construed to infringe on First Amendment rights, including religious freedom, rights of conscience and the freedom of speech.”

Anti-trans views were also a common theme in the amendments. Rep. James Comer (R-Tenn.) proposed a measure stating that “nothing in this act shall be construed to prohibit organizations from denying access of biological males to shared female-only facilities, including restrooms, locker rooms, and dressing rooms.”

Fear of gender transition for minors is found in the amendments. One proposed by Johnson ”ensures that nothing in H.R. 5 may be construed to deny a parent the right to be involved in their minor child’s medical care.” Another proposed by Rep. Tom McClintock (R-Calif) and co-sponsored by Rep. Neil Dunn (R-Fla.) “clarifies that nothing in the act shall require physicians to affirm and provide treatment for minors who request gender transition treatment.”

Playing on fears of men being able to play in women’s sports under the prohibition of anti-trans discrimination under the Equality Act, Rep. Greg Steube (R-Fla.) submitted an amendment that would add “a rule of construction stating that nothing in H.R. 5 may be construed to require a biological female to face competition from a biological male in any sporting event.”

Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.), who in 2009 called the hate crime against Matthew Shepard a “hoax” before before being forced to apologize, submitted an abortion-related measure. Her amendment “clarifies that the term ‘shall not receive less favorable treatment’ with respect to pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions shall not be construed as creating a right to demand that any individual or entity be forced to perform, refer, pay for or otherwise participate in an abortion.”

Another Foxx amendment “prohibits the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Department of Labor from collecting statistics from employers regarding the sexual orientation or gender identity of their employees.”

Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo.), who in the last Congress once tried to ban transition-related care for transgender people in the military, proposed a total of three amendments aimed at undermining the Equality Act:

* One changes the bill Equality Act to state nothing in Section 7 “shall be interpreted to require employers to open up sex-separated spaces by gender identity rather than biological sex, require the use of preferred pronouns, or require employers to include various transgender treatment in their employee health plans.”

* Another changes the bill to clarify private schools are not places of public accommodation. (That seems aimed at allowing anti-LGBT discrimination to continue at private schools under the public accommodations section of the law.)

* Another, co-sponsored by Rep. Barry Loudermilk (R-Ga.), changes the Equality Act to state “nothing in this bill shall require medical and mental health providers to prescribe puberty blockers, recommend social transitioning or prescribe cross-sex hormones as a treatment for gender dysphoria.”

(Each of Hartzler’s amendments are marked “late,” which means she missed the deadline of 10 am on Friday to submit the amendments. There’s no penalty under committee policy for submitting late amendments.)

Rep. Roger Wiliams (R-Texas) proposed a trio of anti-trans and religious freedom amendments for the legislation.

* One amendment “provides for an exemption based upon sincerely held moral or religious beliefs for establishments providing goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages or accommodations.”

* Another amendment “allows religious establishments to discriminate based on sex (including sexual orientation and gender identity).”

* Another “ensures that individuals are not denied access to shared facilities, including restrooms, locker rooms, and dressing rooms, on the basis of their sex designated at birth rather than their gender identity.”

Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) proposed three amendments seeking to include ban discrimination based on political affiliation in the Equality Act:

* One adds political affiliation to the list of prohibited categories of discrimination or segregation.

* Another ensures no program or activity receiving federal financial assistance can discriminate based on political affiliation.

* Another Ensures that any digital platform, website, or application with more than 250,000,000 unique viewers per month may not discriminate against a person, including based on political affiliation.

The proposed amendments to the Equality Act from Democrats seem on the whole aimed at enhancing the bill’s prohibition on anti-LGBT discrimination rather than diminishing it.

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) proposed an amendment that “clarifies that D.C. residents may not be excluded or disqualified from jury service in the D.C. Superior Court based on sexual orientation or gender identity.” Seven Democrats co-sponsor the measure.

Rep. Harley Rouda (D-Calif.) proposed an amendment that “requires financial institutions to inquire whether a business that applies for a loan is LGBTQ-owned and allows any applicant to refuse to provide such information.”

Rep. Andy Levin (D-Mich.) proposed two amendments seeking to expand the findings under the Equality Act. One amendment includes a finding stating LGBT people people of color are more likely to experience anti-LGBT discrimination than their white peers. Another includes a finding that describes the discrimination LGBT workers face in the workplace.

Rep. Anthony Brown (D-Md.) submitted an amendment on the issue of sex discrimination. The measure “requires the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to create an initiative to prevent sex discrimination in the workplace and enhance public awareness of sex discrimination in the workplace.”

One Democrat, however, Rep. Ben McAdams (D-Utah), offered a religious freedom amendment. The proposal “reaffirms that the public accommodations provisions of this act do not apply to religious houses of worship, consistent with current law and practice.”

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

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