President Obama this week became “the first sitting president to be photographed for the cover of an LGBT publication,” appearing on the special OUT 100 issue with the caption, “Our president: Ally. Hero. Icon.” But the day the magazine hit newsstands, the Obama White House also announced a related policy position that shouldn’t go overlooked. The Washington Post reported:
The White House endorsed legislation Tuesday that would amend the 1964 Civil Rights Act to ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, plunging into the next front in the national battle over LGBT rights.Speaking to reporters, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said the administration has been reviewing the bill “for several weeks.” “It is now clear that the administration strongly supports the Equality Act,” he said, adding that it would advance the civil rights of “millions of Americans.”
If the announcement left you wondering what the Equality Act is, you’re probably not alone. It’s an important piece of legislation, but because it faces fierce Republican opposition – and because Republicans control Congress – it’s been largely overlooked.
And that’s a problem the White House’s endorsement should help correct.
For those looking for a recap, Vox had a good piece on the legislation back in July.
The Equality Act would effectively expand the Civil Rights Act, originally passed in 1964, to protect people from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in the workplace, housing, public accommodations (hotels, stores, and similar public places), education, and various other settings. It also expands public accommodations protections to prohibit sex discrimination, and strengthens other, existing protections in public accommodations.
It’s similar to the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (or “ENDA”), but it goes significantly further.
What are the bill’s odds of success? In this Congress, effectively zero. But it’s worth noting the Equality Act has quickly become part of the Democratic agenda – as of this morning, it has 170 co-sponsors in the House (all Dems) and 39 co-sponsors in the Senate (all members of the Democratic caucus). That’s 9 out of 10 of every Democrat in Congress, and it’s likely the others just haven’t gotten around to signing on yet.
I haven’t seen any public polling on this, but I continue to believe one of the key challenges facing proposals like these is the fact that much of the public already assumes LGBT Americans are protected against discrimination. They’re not.
It’s a problem that’s easily fixed, but Equality Act proponents won’t have a credible chance of success until 2017 at the earliest. If one of the Republican presidential candidates wins next year, the effort will be delayed until 2021 at the earliest.