Equality Act (United States)

The Equality Act is a bill in the United States Congress, that, if passed, would amend the Civil Rights Act to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, housing, public accommodations, public education, federal funding, credit, and the jury system.[1] While the Supreme Court's June 2020 ruling in Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia said that the Civil Rights Act protects sexual orientation and gender identity in matters of employment, the other areas remain undefined.

Equality Act
Great Seal of the United States
Legislative history
United States Supreme Court cases
R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes Inc. v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

As of 2020, 29 states have not outlawed anti-LGBT discrimination, with members of the LGBT community being given very little protection at a national level[2][3] and two-thirds of LGBT Americans in the United States reporting facing or having experienced discrimination in their personal lives. The Equality Act seeks to remedy this lack of protection, applying existing state anti-LGBT discrimination laws nationwide.[1]

The Equality Act passed the United States House of Representatives on May 17, 2019 in a bipartisan 236–173 vote.[4][5] The United States Senate received the bill for consideration on May 20, 2019, where the bill remains.[6]

Purpose and content

The Equality Act would uniformly apply anti-LGBT discrimination law in the United States. State anti-discrimination laws as of May 2019:
  State law prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in public employment, private employment, housing, and provision of goods and services
  State law prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation (but not gender identity) in public employment, private employment, housing, and provision of goods and services
  State law prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in public and private employment, but not in other areas such as housing and provision of goods and services
  State law does not prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Some states may have related executive orders, but their scope is very limited as they only protect public state employees against discrimination.

The Equality Act seeks to incorporate protections against LGBT discrimination into the federal Civil Rights law. Specifically, it prohibits discrimination based on sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity in a wide variety of areas including public accommodations and facilities, education, federal funding, employment, housing, and credit.[7]

It also seeks to expand existing civil rights protections for people of color,[8] women,[9] and other minority groups by updating the definition of public accommodations to include places or establishments that provide:[7][1]

  • Exhibitions, recreation, exercise, amusement, gatherings, or displays
  • Goods, services, or programs
  • Transportation services


Early history (1970s–1990s)

The original Equality Act was developed by U.S. Representatives Bella Abzug (D-NY) and Ed Koch (D-NY) in 1974. The Equality Act of 1974 sought to amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to include prohibition of discrimination on the basis of sex, sexual orientation, and marital status in federally assisted programs, housing sales, rentals, financing, and brokerage services. The bill authorized civil actions by the Attorney General of the United States in cases of discrimination on account of sex, sexual orientation, or marital status in public facilities and public education. On June 27, 1974, the bill was referred to the House Committee on the Judiciary, but did not proceed to a vote in the full United States House of Representatives.[10]

From 1994, the more narrow Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) was introduced, but faced opposition over whether transgender Americans would be protected. An expanded version of ENDA which included both sexual orientation and gender identity in its protections passed the United States Senate in 2013, but did not advance in the House.[11]

Public opinion

A Reuters/Ipsos poll conducted in May/June 2019 found that most Americans do not know that LGBT people lack federal protections. Only one-third of respondents knew that such protections do not exist on the basis of transgender identity, and only one-quarter knew that they don't exist on the basis of lesbian, gay, and bisexual identity.[12][13]

A nationwide and state-by-state poll on the issue conducted throughout 2017 by the Public Religion Research Institute as part of the annual American Values Atlas survey revealed that 70% of Americans, including a majority in every state, supported laws that would protect lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people against discrimination, while 23% opposed such laws, and 8% had no opinion.[14][15][16]

A poll conducted by Quinnipiac University in April 2019 found that 92% of American voters believed that employers should not be allowed to fire someone based on their sexual orientation or sexual identity, while only 6% believed that employers should be allowed to do so. A wide consensus on this question was found among both Democratic and Republican voters, as well as Independents, although Democratic voters were slightly more likely to believe that this kind of discrimination should be illegal, with only 1% of them believing that employers should be allowed to fire someone based on their sexual orientation or sexual identity.[17]

Support and opposition


The Equality Act is supported by more than 515 national, state and local organizations.[18][19][20] These include national organizations related to human rights and social justice, such as American Civil Liberties Union, Anti-Defamation League, GLSEN, Human Rights Campaign, Human Rights Watch, Lambda Legal, the National Organization for Women, NAACP, and the AARP.

Supporting organizations also include those from national professional organizations, such as the American Psychological Association, American Medical Association, American Counseling Association, American Federation of Teachers, American Bar Association, and the American Academy of Pediatrics, as well as the National PTA.[21]

The act is also supported by over 180 American businesses and the US Chamber of Commerce.[22][23] These include internet and technology companies such as Apple, Google, Microsoft, Amazon, eBay, IBM, Facebook, Airbnb, Twitter, Intel, and Netflix. Other companies supporting the act include Visa, Mastercard, Abercrombie & Fitch, Alaska Airlines, and American Airlines.

Furthermore, many celebrities have expressed their support for the Equality Act and urged Congress to pass it. These include Alexandra Billings,[24] Karamo Brown,[25] Gloria Calderón Kellett,[26] Charlie Carver,[27] Max Carver,[27] Nyle DiMarco,[28] Sally Field,[29] Marcia Gay Harden,[30] Dustin Lance Black,[31] Jaime Lee Curtis,[32] Jane Lynch,[33] Justina Machado,[34] Adam Rippon,[35] Taylor Swift,[36][37][38] Bella Thorne,[39] and Jesse Tyler Ferguson.[40]

Feminist/Women's groups in favor of the Equality Act legislation include but are not limited to the National Organization for Women,[21] 9to5: the National Association of Working Women,[21] the Coalition of Labor Union Women,[21] Feminist Majority,[21] Girls, Inc.,[21] Jewish Women International,[21] The National Black Women’s Reproductive Justice Agenda,[21] NARAL,[21] MANA, A National Latina Organization,[21] MomsRising,[21] National Alliance to End Sexual Violence,[21] National Asian Pacific American Women's Forum (NAPAWF),[21] National Association for Female Executives,[21] National Women's Health Network,[21] National Women's Law Center,[21] Planned Parenthood,[21] Positive Women’s Network-USA,[21] and United State of Women[21] to name a few.

Religious organizations and registered charities that have given public support to the act include Advocates for Youth, and various Catholic leaders and lobbying organizations such as Father James Martin, S.J.,[41] Network,[42] and DignityUSA.[43] Catholic theologian and nun Joan Chittister released a statement saying that the Equality Act "...must be passed, must be extended, and must be lived if religion itself is to be true".[44]

Other faiths groups and organizations that have publicly supported the act include the Episcopal Church,[45] The United Methodist Church,[45] The United Church of Christ,[46] the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America,[21] More Light Presbyterians,[21] African American Ministers in Action,[21] The Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists,[21] The Union for Reform Judaism,[45] United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism,[45] the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association,[21] Muslims for Progressive Values,[21] the Hindu American Foundation,[21] and the Unitarian Universalist Association.[45]


Some religious leaders cited opposition to the bill for multiple reasons, including claims that it would infringe on religious liberty.[47][48]

On March 20, 2019, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops sent a letter addressed to the United States Senate that opposed the Equality Act on the grounds of freedom of expression and freedom of religion, among other concerns.[49]

On May 7, 2019, a coalition of Christian organizations sent a letter to the House of Representatives to state opposition to the Equality Act, which they said "undermines religious freedom, and threatens charitable nonprofits and the people they serve, regulates free speech, hinders quality health care, and endangers the privacy and safety of women and girls." In addition to four committee chairs of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, signers included leaders from the Christian Legal Society, the Center for Law and Religious Freedom, the Center for Public Justice, the National Association of Evangelicals, the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, the Lutheran Center for Religious Liberty (affiliated with the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod), the Council of Christian Colleges and Universities, and the Institutional Religious Freedom Alliance.[50]

Bill Donohue president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights has asserted that "The Equality Act is the most comprehensive assault on religious liberty, the right to life, and privacy rights ever packaged into one bill." Donohue also stated his concern that "Catholic hospitals would no longer be allowed to govern as Catholic facilities, threatening healthcare for everyone, especially the poor."[51]

On May 16, 2019, Sister Carol Keehan, president of the Catholic Health Association sent a letter to lawmakers in the House expressing concern that the Act, as written, would roll back religious liberty protections. "Federal law has long recognized that certain services can present conflict for some faith-based health care providers with religious or moral objections to providing those services, and protected them from having to do so. We are concerned that the Equality Act omits and could erode or reduce those protections." The legislation, she noted, "lacks conscience protection language and precludes application of RFRA (Religious Freedom Restoration Act)."[52]

The American Family Association published an article in April 2019 opposing the Act, writing that discrimination against the LGBT community is a "social good".[53]

On May 13, 2019, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints released a statement that read in part, “The Equality Act now before Congress is not balanced and does not meet the standard of fairness for all. While providing extremely broad protections for LGBT rights, the Equality Act provides no protections for religious freedom".[48][54]

Following passage of the Act in the House of Representatives, Kristen Waggoner, Senior Vice President of U.S. Legal Division of the Alliance Defending Freedom (which the SPLC has designated as an anti-LGBT hate group[55]), issued a statement charging that the Act "undermines women's equality by denying female athletes fair competition in sports, depriving women of business opportunities designed for them, and forcing them to share private, intimate spaces with men who identify as female.[56]

The Heritage Foundation has argued that the Act would adversely affect five groups of people (employers and workers; medical professionals; parents and children; non-profit organizations and their volunteers; and women), and they describe specific harms the Foundation believes each group would experience from the Act's passage. [57]

Presidents' stances

Barack Obama

President Obama and Vice President Biden voiced support for the Equality Act when it was first introduced in the 114th United States Congress.[58][59]

Donald Trump

The Trump Administration opposes the Equality Act. In August 2019, the White House issued a statement, "The Trump Administration absolutely opposes discrimination of any kind and supports the equal treatment of all; however, the House-passed bill in its current form is filled with poison pills that threaten to undermine parental and conscience rights.” [60]

Legislative activity

114th Congress

H.R. 3185

On July 23, 2015, Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI) introduced the Equality Act of 2015 in the United States House of Representatives. The bill was supported by President Barack Obama.[58]

In January 2016, Rep. Bob Dold (R-IL) became the first Republican Representative to co-sponsor the bill.[61] Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) became the second Republican to co-sponsor the bill in September 2016. Jenniffer González (R-PR) also co-sponsored the bill.[62]

S. 1858

On July 23, 2015, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) introduced the Equality Act of 2015 in the United States Senate.

In January 2016, Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) became the first and only Republican Senator to co-sponsor the bill.

All Democrats and Independents cosponsored the bill with the exception of Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), Joe Donnelly (D-IN), Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Jon Tester (D-MT).

115th Congress

H.R. 2282

On May 2, 2017, Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI) introduced the Equality Act of 2017 in the United States House of Representatives.

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) was the only Republican to co-sponsor the bill from the outset, with Rep. Scott Taylor (R-VA) becoming the second Republican to co-sponsor the bill on May 26, 2017.

S. 1006

On May 2, 2017, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) introduced the Equality Act of 2017 in the United States Senate.

All Democrats and Independents cosponsored the bill with the exceptions of Joe Donnelly (D-IN) and Joe Manchin (D-WV).

116th Congress

H.R. 5

On March 13, 2019, Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI) introduced the Equality Act of 2019 in the United States House of Representatives. The bill is sponsored by 237 Democrats and 3 Republicans. On May 1, 2019, the bill passed the House Judiciary Committee by a vote of 22-10, with all Democratic members of the committee voting in favor and all Republican members against.[63] A vote by the full House was held on May 17, 2019; the vote carried with 236 votes for and 173 against. Eight Republicans voted in favor of the bill and no Democrats opposed it.[4][64]

S. 788

On March 13, 2019, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) introduced the Equality Act of 2019 in the United States Senate. The bill is sponsored by 43 Democrats, 2 Independents, and 1 Republican.

Legislative history

Congress Short title Bill number(s) Date introduced Sponsor(s) # of cosponsors Latest status
114th Congress Equality Act of 2015 H.R. 3185 July 23, 2015 David Cicilline
178 Died in committee
S. 1858 July 23, 2015 Jeff Merkley
42 Died in committee
115th Congress Equality Act of 2017 H.R. 2282 May 2, 2017 David Cicilline
198 Died in committee
S. 1006 May 2, 2017 Jeff Merkley
47 Died in committee
116th Congress Equality Act of 2019 H.R. 5 March 13, 2019 David Cicilline
240 Passed the House[4]
S. 788 March 13, 2019 Jeff Merkley
46 Referred to committee

Supreme Court ruling on Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia

On June 15th, 2020, the United States Supreme Court ruled that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in employment. LGBTQ rights advocates welcomed the ruling and reaffirmed support for passage of the Equality Act, noting that the ruling only covered employment and in many states LGBTQ people still lack non-discrimination protections in housing, public accommodations, public education, federal funding, credit, and jury service which would be covered under the Equality Act.[65][66][67]

See also


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External links