The U.S. House of Representatives took an important step toward securing LGBTQ rights May 17 by passing the Equality Act, landmark legislation that would protect members of the LGBTQ community from discrimination in key areas such as employment, housing, public accommodations, public education, federal funding, credit and financing, and jury service.
The act (H.R. 5) passed the House in a 236-173 bipartisan vote. Americans United, which supported the legislation, hailed the vote.
"Today, our country moved closer to fulfilling our promise of freedom and equality for all with the House passage of the Equality Act," said AU President and CEO Rachel Laser in a statement to the media. "This landmark legislation provides crucial, nationwide protections for LGBTQ people, women, religious minorities and people of color all of whom are frequent targets of discrimination because of who they are, who they love or what they look like and what they believe. Just as important, the Equality Act makes clear that religious freedom cannot be misused to undermine these protections."
Continued Laser, "The Equality Act is a critically needed check on the Religious Right's weaponization of 'religious freedom' as a license to discriminate. Time and again the safety and security of the LGBTQ community is threatened by the Religious Right's desire to move our country backwards. Due to grossly inadequate legal protections and all-too-common government policies that allow for religious refusals where protections do exist, they continue to succeed. Enough is enough."
She concluded, "We cannot waste this historic moment. We urge the U.S. Senate to act swiftly so the millions of people who suffer because of discrimination can experience a new day of equality. Religious freedom is guaranteed in our Constitution. So is equality. This bill delivers on both of those promises."
Prior to the debate, Americans United pointed out that millions of Americans already enjoy protections like those guaranteed in the legislation. The Equality Act, AU noted, would simply extend them to members of the LGBTQ community.
Religious Right groups were furious over the vote. Prior to it, they spent months spreading their usual mix of half-truths and hysteria, which they ratcheted up after the act's House passage.
Days before the vote, the American Family Association released a short video featuring Tim Wildmon, president of the group, and two of his associates. Wildmon said of the bill, "It is...