Despite the presence of President Biden in the White House and Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress, efforts to update federal civil rights laws to strengthen the prohibition on discrimination against LGBTQ people by enacting the Equality Act are virtually dead because opponents of the measure have twisted it. beyond recognition.
The political will is lacking to find a compromise that would be acceptable to enough Republican senators to end a filibuster on the bill — a tall challenge in any event — nor is there the will. to force a vote on the Equality Act as opponents stoke fears about transgender children in sports and not even unanimity within the Democratic caucus in favor of the bill is present, stakeholders said who spoke to the Blade on condition of anonymity.
In fact, there are no imminent plans to hold a vote on the legislation even though Pride Month is days away, which would be an opportune time for Congress to show solidarity with the LGBTQ community by organizing a vote on legislation.
If the Equality Act were to be voted on by the Senate next month, it would not have the support needed to pass. Continued assurances that bipartisan talks are continuing on the legislation have provided no evidence of further support, let alone the 10 Republicans needed to end a filibuster.
“I haven’t really heard an update anyway, which usually isn’t good,” a Democratic insider said. “I understand that our side was rooted in an uncompromising mindset and with [Sen. Joe] Manchin saying he didn’t like the bill, he condemned this Congress. And the intimidation of hundreds of trans athletes derailed our message and our arguments about why it was so badly needed.
The only thing stopping the final nail from being driven into the coffin of the Equality Act is the reluctance of its proponents to admit defeat. Other stakeholders who spoke to the blade continued to claim that bipartisan talks are underway, strongly pushing back against any conclusion that the legislation is dead.
Alphonso David, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said the Equality Act is “alive and healthy”, citing broad public support which he said includes “the majority of Democrats, Republicans and Independents and a growing number of communities across the country engaging and mobilizing every day in support of the legislation.
“They understand the urgent need to pass this bill and stand up for LGBTQ people across our country,” David added. “As we engage with elected officials, we are confident that Congress will listen to the voices of their constituents and continue to fight for the Equality Act throughout the lengthy legislative process. We will also continue our unprecedented campaign to increase the already high public support for a grassroots bill that will save lives and make our country fairer and more equal for all.We won’t stop until the Equality Act is passed.
Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), lead sponsor of the Senate Equality Act, also signaled through a spokesperson that work continues on the legislation, refusing to back down on expectations. that the legislation would soon become law.
“Sen. Merkley and his team are in active discussion with colleagues on both sides of the aisle to try to make that happen,” McLennan said. “We definitely see it as a key priority that we hope to see become law. “
A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (DN.Y.), who promised to force a vote on the Senate Equality Act the day the U.S. House approved it earlier this year, a March 25 letter “Dear Colleague” pointed out. in which he identified the Equality Act as one of several bills he would put to a vote.
Despite all the assurances, the blocking of the bill is obvious. Although the U.S. House approved the bill earlier this year, the Senate Judiciary Committee has yet to even report the bill to the prosecution following the Senate’s first-ever hearing on the bill in March. A Democratic aide to the Senate Judiciary Committee, however, disputed the inaction as evidence that the equality law died in its tracks: “Bipartisan efforts to move forward are ongoing.”
Democrats aren’t shy about blaming Republicans for their inaction on the Equality Act, but with Manchin holding back his support for the legislation, they can’t even count on their entire caucus to vote “yes” if he comes to the meeting. Progressives continue to advocate an end to the filibuster to advance the legislation Biden has promised as part of his platform, but even if they were to ride out the headwinds and dismantle the institution that needs 60 votes to moving the legislation forward, the Equality Act would likely not have majority support to win approval in the Senate with a 50-50 split in the party.
Manchin’s office, which previously said it could not support the Equality Act due to concerns about public schools having to implement transgender protections applying to sports and bathrooms, did not did not respond to Blade’s multiple inquiries about the legislation this year and did not respond to a request for comment for this article.
Meanwhile, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who declined to co-sponsor the Equality Act this year after signing the legislation in the previous Congress, insisted through a spokeswoman for that the talks are still taking place across the aisle despite appearances. the legislation is dead.
“There continues to be bipartisan support for passing legislation that protects the civil rights of Americans, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity,” Collins spokeswoman Annie Clark said. “The Equality Act was a starting point for negotiations and in its current form it cannot pass. That is why there are ongoing discussions among senators and stakeholders on the way forward.
Let’s face it: Anti-LGBTQ forces have accelerated the debate by making the Equality Act the end of women’s sports by allowing transgender athletes and danger to women in gender-separated places like bathrooms and jails. It doesn’t even get into resolving the issue of the distinction between LGBTQ civil rights and religious freedom, which continues to be challenged in court, as the United States Supreme Court is expected to one day to the other to make a decision in Fulton v. City of Philadelphia to determine whether fostering agencies can reject same-sex couples over religious objections.
For transgender Americans, who continue to report discrimination and violence at high rates, the Equality Act’s absence may be felt more harshly.
Mara Keisling, outgoing executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, challenged any notion that the Equality Act is dead and insisted the legislation is “very much alive”.
“We remain optimistic despite opposition misinformation,” Keisling said. “The NCTE and our movement partners are still working fruitfully on the Equality Act with Senators. In fact, we are gaining momentum with all the on-the-ground organization that we do, like telephone banking voters to call their senators. Legislating takes time. Nothing ever passes quickly in Congress. We expect to see a vote at this Congress, and hopefully we can win.
But a Democratic source said calls for members of Congress against the Equality Act, apparently coordinated by groups like the Heritage Foundation, outnumbered calls for it by a substantial margin, with a particular focus on Manchin.
There are no stories in the media of same-sex couples being kicked out of a restaurant for holding hands or of transgender people for using the bathroom in accordance with their gender identity, which would be perfectly legal in 25 states thanks to the patchwork of civil rights laws across the United States and inadequate protections under federal law.
Tyler Deaton, senior adviser to the American Unity Fund, which has bolstered the Republican-led Fairness for All Act as an alternative to the Equality Act, said he continues to believe the votes are there for a compromise form of the bill.
“I know for a fact that there is a majority level of support in the Senate for a version of the Equality Act that fully protects both civil rights and religious freedom for LGBTQ people,” Deaton said. “There is interest on both sides of the aisle to do something this Congress.”
Deaton, however, did not respond to a follow-up inquiry into the existing evidence of an agreement on this compromise.
Biden has already missed the goal he campaigned for in the 2020 election to sign the Equality in Law Act in his first 100 days in office. Although Biden renewed his call to pass the legislation in his speech to Congress last month, as things stand, that seems like a goal he won’t achieve for the rest of this Congress.
Nor has the Biden administration made the equality law an issue for senior administration officials, as it pushes for an infrastructure package as a top priority. A Democratic insider said Louisa Terrell, the White House director of legislative affairs, delegated work on the equality law to a deputy instead of handling it herself.
To be sure, Biden has demonstrated his support for the LGBTQ community through executive action at an unprecedented pace, signing an executive order on day one directing federal agencies to implement the U.S. Supreme Court ruling. last year in Bostock v. Clayton County to the fullest extent possible. and the dismantling of former President Trump’s military transgender ban. Biden also made historic LGBTQ nominations with the confirmation of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Rachel Levine as Deputy Health Secretary.
A White House spokesperson insisted that Biden’s team at all levels remains committed to the Equality Act, pointing to his remarks to Congress.
“President Biden has urged Congress to get the Equality Act on his desk so he can sign it into law and provide long overdue civil rights protections for LGBTQ+ Americans, and he remains committed to seeing this legislation passed. as soon as possible,” the spokesperson said. . “The White House and its entire legislative team remain in close coordination with organizations, leaders, members of Congress, including the Equality Caucus, and staff to ensure we are working on the other side of the aisle to advance the Equality Act.”
But at least in the short term, that progress won’t deliver on the promise to update the federal Civil Rights Act with the Equality Act, which means LGBTQ people won’t be able to rely on those protections when ‘they will face discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.