March 13, 2019

WASHINGTON — Nearly 300 members of Congress from both chambers introduced the Equality Act today, legislation that would explicitly prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in the nation’s federal civil rights laws.

The Equality Act would provide comprehensive sex discrimination protections, including from discrimination by businesses and federally funded programs. The Equality Act also clarifies that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) cannot be used in civil rights contexts, prohibiting religious liberty — which is a core American value — from being used as a license to discriminate. If passed, it would be the first law to ensure LGBTQ people are covered by consistent, explicit, and nationwide non-discrimination protections in employment, housing, and access to public spaces and services.

The bill would also close significant gaps in our federal civil rights laws by ensuring that all businesses, including retail establishments and transportation providers, are covered under laws that bar discrimination by businesses open to the public — making it, for the first time under federal law, illegal to discriminate against individuals for “shopping while Black” or “flying while brown.”

Ronald Newman, national political director at the American Civil Liberties Union, had the following response:

“For too long, the constitutional principle of ‘equality under the law’ has been an elusive promise for many individuals across the country. Nearly two-thirds of LGBTQ Americans report having experienced discrimination in their everyday lives. People of color are improperly suspected of wrongdoing in public spaces and when accessing publicly available services. And for people who live at the intersections of multiple targeted identities—particularly queer and transgender people of color — discrimination is a persistent and painful daily reality.

“This is why we need the Equality Act: to ensure LGBTQ people are explicitly covered by existing civil rights laws, and to strengthen protections for all people, including women, religious minorities, and people of color. No one should be prohibited from fully participating in public life due to their sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or race. The ACLU looks forward to working with Congress to give everyone a chance to support themselves, provide for their family, and live their lives free from harassment and discrimination.”

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