What Is The Equality Act & How Does It Affect LGBTQ Rights?

A majority of states don't explicitly ban LGBTQ discrimination; the act would change that at the federal level.

the rainbow flag that is used by the lgbtq community
Ludovic Bertron / Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 2.0 Cropped, resized.)

A majority of states don't explicitly ban LGBTQ discrimination; the act would change that at the federal level.

On Friday, the House of Representatives passed the Equality Act, a sweeping new LGBTQ rights bill that would tighten existing federal laws on anti-LGBTQ discrimination, as well as provide protections for LGBTQ individuals in states where those rights aren’t explicitly protected.

What Is The Equality Act?

The bill, first introduced in 2015, according to Vox, and which you can read in its entirety here, is the first major Congressional effort aimed at codifying LGBTQ rights at the federal level. Friday’s vote by the House of Representatives marks the first time the bill has been given approval by either chamber of Congress.

The bill essentially adds sexual orientation and gender identity to existing federal law with regard to discrimination in housing, employment, borrowing, and in other areas. As the Equality and Human Rights Commission notes, the Equality Act “merges” nine existing federal laws regarding discrimination into one omnibus law.

The bill faces an uncertain future in the Republican-controlled Senate, and it is unclear if Donald Trump will sign it into law. However, considering that Trump has, in the past, made policy decisions that are anti-LGBTQ (such as banning transgender troops from serving in the military), it seems unlikely that the bill will get Trump’s signature.

What Does It Mean For LGBTQ Individuals?

As The Advocate explains, the Equality Act insures that LGBTQ individuals cannot be discriminated against in key areas.

Employment: The Act extends federal anti-discrimination legislation related to employment of LGBTQ individuals. What this means is that a person cannot be denied a job on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity in both the public and private sector. Exceptions are made for religious institutions, religious institutions of higher education, and certain advocacy groups (so, for example, an anti-LGBTQ advocacy group would not be forced to hire an LGBTQ individual).

Housing: Similarly, the Act extends the protections of the Fair Housing Act to LGBTQ individuals. The Act would still provide exceptions for owner-occupied rental housing that has four or fewer units; and does not extend to arrangements between individual roommates.

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Public Accommodations: Provides the same protections for LGBTQ individuals that the Civil Rights Act extends to other minority groups in places of “public accommodation,” such as restaurants, sports stadiums, or movie theaters, for example. Exceptions will still be in place for religious institutions that only provide facilities for their members. So, an evangelical Christian church, for example, would not be forced to host a wedding for LGBTQ individuals.

The Act would also put an end to disputes over whether or not a baker could be forced to bake a cake for a gay wedding. Under the wording of the bill, a baker could choose to limit his inventory to, say, birthday cakes or graduation cakes. But if the baker offers wedding cakes to straight couples, he or she would be required to bake a cake for a gay couple when asked.

The Act also requires that businesses and public K-12 schools allow individuals to use the restroom that corresponds to their gender identity.

Borrowing: The Act prohibits banks and lending institutions from discriminating against individuals based on sexual orientation or gender identity.