New York – LGBTQ Americans moved a step closer to winning legal protection from discrimination on Thursday as the U.S. House of Representatives passed a key civil rights bill backed by President Joe Biden.
By a vote of 224 to 206, the House passed the landmark Equality Act, which amends the 1964 Civil Rights Act to include sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes in addition to race, religion, sex and national origin.
The vote closely followed party lines, with only three Republican lawmakers supporting the bill.
“Without the Equality Act, this nation will never live up to its principles of freedom and equality,” Democratic Rep. Marie Newman of Illinois, who has a trans daughter, said on the House floor on Wednesday.
“I’m voting yes on the Equality Act for Evie Newman, my daughter and the strongest, bravest person I know.”
Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people often encounter prejudice in housing, credit, jury service and public spaces, as only 22 states and the District of Columbia prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
State legislatures regularly advance laws that limit local LGBTQ protections. Since the start of the year, a dozen states have introduced or passed laws to bar trans girls from participating in girls’ sports leagues.
For the Equality Act to become law, it must win 60 votes in the U.S. Senate, where there is a 50-50 split between Democrats and Republicans.
Several Republicans have expressed their opposition, including Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah, a former presidential candidate, who said he would oppose the bill unless it added a provision giving “strong religious liberty protections.”
Matt Sharp, senior counsel for the Christian group Alliance Defending Freedom — which won a Supreme Court victory in 2018 for a Colorado baker who refused to make a wedding cake for a gay couple — echoed Romney’s concerns.
“It’s giving the government the authority to compel people to affirm things, to celebrate things, to create speech and expression that violates their deepest convictions,” Sharp said, referring to the bill.
“No one should be forced to do that.”
LGBT advocates say they are confident the bill will become law because of its popularity among the American public.
An estimated 83% of Americans favor laws that would protect LGBT people against discrimination in jobs, public accommodation and housing, including 68% of Republicans, according to a poll by the Public Religion Research Institute.
“In a period of such polarization, where else do you have over 80% of support for a piece of legislation?” said Janson Wu, executive director of LGBTQ advocacy group GLAAD. “This should be a no-brainer for any legislator regardless of their party.”
The House first passed the Equality Act in 2019, but it stalled in the Republican-controlled Senate during the administration of President Donald Trump, which opposed the bill. The Democrats won control of the Senate in November’s elections.
Biden is a vocal supporter of LGBTQ rights, in a clear departure from the Trump administration, which barred trans people from joining the military and issued orders emphasizing the importance of “biological sex” rather than gender identity.
Since taking office in January, Biden signed an executive order that federal agencies must not discriminate against LGBTQ people and issued a memorandum aimed at protecting LGBTQ rights worldwide, including potentially through the use of sanctions.
“Every person should be treated with dignity and respect,” Biden said in a statement when the Equality Act was introduced to the House last week.
“This bill represents a critical step toward ensuring that America lives up to our foundational values of equality and freedom for all.”
LGBTQ advocates praised Biden’s use of the executive office but reiterated the need for comprehensive legislation.
“We deserve more than temporary measures,” said Erin Uritus, chief executive of Out & Equal Workplace Advocates, in a statement.
“Turning the Equality Act into the law of the land is absolutely necessary to cement civil rights protections for LGBTQ Americans.”
A record 5.6% of Americans — or 18 million people — are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, a Gallup poll found on Wednesday, attributing a significant increase to greater social acceptance.
The 2020 survey showed a 24% rise from the last poll in 2017, when 4.5% of adults identified as LGBTQ. The increase was largely driven by Generation Z adults — aged 18 to 23 — 15.9% of whom said they were LGBTQ.
“At a time when Americans are increasingly supportive of equal rights for gay, lesbian and transgender people, a growing percentage of Americans identify themselves as LGBT,” Gallup said in a blog post.
The 2020 U.S. election saw Pete Buttigieg run as an openly gay presidential candidate and LGBTQ candidates scored numerous historic wins, including Sarah McBride as the first openly trans state senator.
Support for same-sex marriage, legalized in 2015 and largely seen as synonymous with backing for LGBTQ rights, has risen to 62% of Americans, according to the Public Religion Research Institute, compared with 36% in 2007.
The majority of LGBTQ Americans — 54.6% — identify as bisexual, Gallup found, while 24.5% said they were gay men, 11.7% lesbian and 11.3% trans.
The pollsters surveyed a random sample of 15,000 Americans throughout 2020 by telephone and found that 86.7% identified as heterosexual, while 7.6% declined to answer the question, up from about 5% in previous Gallup surveys, which began in 2012.
There were marked differences between the generations. Older people were far less likely to consider themselves LGBTQ, with the lowest percentage — 1.3% — among those born before 1946.
Women are more likely to identify as LGBTQ than men, at 6.4% compared with 4.9%, researchers found, while 13% of political liberals said they were LGBTQ versus 2.3% of conservatives.
A similar trend has been witnessed in Britain, where the proportion of people who identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual increased to 2.2% in 2018 from 1.6% in 2016, according to government data.
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