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Opposing the 'Equality Act,' Republicans take a step backwards

Twelve years ago, 35 House Republicans supported ENDA. Last week, only eight House Republicans supported the Equality Act.
The dome of the U.S. Capitol Building is reflected in a puddle on a rainy morning in Washington.
The dome of the U.S. Capitol Building is reflected in a puddle on a rainy morning in Washington.

In every Congress, the House majority leadership, regardless of which party is in control, sets aside the first 10 available bill numbers. As regular readers know, it's intended as a symbolic way to signal a party's top legislative priorities: H.R. 1 through H.R. 10 will reflect the leadership's most important goals.

In the current Congress, for example, we've recently seen votes on the House majority's democracy-reform package called the "For the People Act" (H.R. 1), as well as the "Paycheck Fairness Act" (H.R. 7). Late last week, Democrats also passed the 'Equality Act" (H.R. 5).

The House on Friday passed a sweeping LGBTQ nondiscrimination bill that would modify existing civil rights legislation to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, housing, public accommodations, jury service, education, federal programs and credit."The LGBTQ community has waited nearly 250 years for full equality in our country," said Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., the legislation's chief sponsor and one of eight openly LGBTQ members in the House. "Today, we're one step closer to that goal."

To be sure, it was a historic step in a progressive direction, though there's a reason much of the country probably didn't hear about the House vote: everyone involved in the process knows that the Republican majority in the Senate won't even consider the legislation. The Equality Act is going to pass someday, but that day won't come before 2021.

Before the political world moves on, however, it's worth pausing to note just how many Republicans voted for the bill on Friday afternoon.

The good news for the legislation's proponents is that it passed with relative ease: 236 to 173. The bad news is it received only eight votes from House Republicans.

Or put another way, 179 House Republicans voted on the bill, and more than 95% of them voted against it.

These GOP lawmakers could've voted for it, confident in the knowledge that the bill would die in the Senate, but they opposed it anyway, even though they knew it would pass the chamber.

And to a very real degree, this represents a step backwards for the party. When the Democratic-led House took up the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) in 2007, 35 Republicans voted to prohibit discrimination against LGBT Americans in hiring.

Twelve years later, the number of GOP lawmakers willing to support the Equality Act was just eight.

Apparently hoping to justify his party's opposition to the bill, Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) argued on Friday, "Americans are becoming more tolerant every day, which is why the Equality Act is so counterproductive. It unnecessarily pits communities against each other and divides our nation when patience and understanding are so sorely needed."

First, given Lee's handling of Chai Feldblum's EEOC nomination last year, perhaps the Utah Republican should sit this one out.

Second, I'm having a tough time wrapping my head around the senator's logic. To extend civil rights to Americans is to "pit communities against each other"? By the same reasoning, does Lee believe discrimination is a force for unity and societal cohesion?