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Controversial ‘Equality Act’ Hangs in Balance with Senate Vote on a Knife Edge

Rep. Peter Meijer (R-MI) stated that the bill “does nothing to address the concerns or assuage the negative impact on hundreds of thousands of Americans with deeply held, sincere religious beliefs.”

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In a 226-204 vote late on Thursday, Democratic lawmakers in the House of Representatives unanimously passed the proposed Equality Act of 2021. Republican representatives Tom Reed (R-N.Y.), John Katko (R-NY), and Brian Fitzpatrick (R.-PA) also voted in favor of the bill.

The legislation expands several sections of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to include legal and non-discrimination protections for LGBT Americans. The sponsor of the bill, Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI), remarked during the debate to consider the bill, “… right now discrimination is a fact of life for millions of LGBTQ Americans. The fact is that in most states, an LGBTQ person is at risk of being denied housing, education, or the right to serve on a jury just because of who they are.” He later pleaded with Congressional Republicans to consider “how [their] vote will be remembered years from now.”

During his presidential campaign, President Biden made it a top priority for his administration to seek passage of the Equality Act in his first 100 days. A major component of his plan to reverse many of the policies implemented under the Trump administration will include empowering federal agencies to sharply enforce the Act’s provisions. Such agencies include the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, and the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division. 

After the Equality Act was passed, President Biden took to Twitter to reiterate his support for transgender Americans and is now urging the Senate to do the same. He plans on passing the bill into law should it arrive at his desk for approval.

Senate Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) charged that the Equality Act is another step in the Biden administration’s plan to “significantly erode freedom of religion” and women’s sports, among other things.

The Heritage Foundation, a prominent conservative think tank, along with several other congressional Republicans also cited concerns over religious liberty, especially in light of the nomination of California Attorney General Xavier Becerra to head the Department of Health and Human Services. Mr. Becerra is viewed with suspicion by conservative Christians and congressional Republicans over his role in a lawsuit filed by the state of California against a Catholic non-profit agency run by the Little Sisters of the Poor. 

Rep. Peter Meijer (R-MI) added that the bill “does nothing to address the concerns or assuage the negative impact on hundreds of thousands of Americans with deeply held, sincere religious beliefs.” Few other Republicans immediately followed suit in issuing similar official statements on the matter. 

The most controversial actions came from Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R.-GA) in the days leading up to the Equality Act’s passage. In response to a speech given by Rep. Marie Newman (D.-IL) on the House floor, Rep. Taylor Greene tweeted, “Your biological son does NOT belong in my daughter’s bathrooms, locker rooms, and sports teams.”

Newman, who has a transgender daughter herself and whose office sits across the hallway from that of . Taylor Greene, put up a transgender pride flag outside of her congressional office as a sign of solidarity with the transgender community. In response, Rep. Taylor Greene put up a sign outside her office that says, “There are TWO genders: Male & Female. Trust The Science!” Members of both parties have since lambasted Rep. Taylor Greene for her remarks toward Newman.

It is not clear if the Senate will pass the motion. All eyes are on Senators Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) and Susan Collins (R.-Me.) as the bill reaches the Senate floor. If either senator chooses to support the legislation, it is likely that Senate Democrats will be able to send the bill to the President’s desk soon. 

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