The Equality Act

MEGAN BASHAM, HOST: It’s Monday morning and a brand new work week for The World and Everything in It. Today is the 20th of May, 2019. Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Megan Basham.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. First up on The World and Everything in It: the Equality Act.

Back in March, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi introduced a bill called the Equality Act. It bans discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. And does so by making the two categories protected classes under U.S. anti-discrimination law. That would place sexual orientation and gender identity into the same protected class as race, color, national origin, sex, disability, and religion.

BASHAM: The Equality Act would cover things like employment, housing, and public accommodations. But the bill provides almost no religious exemptions for people with Biblical beliefs on gender and sexuality.

On Friday, the House easily approved the bill. WORLD Radio’s Sarah Schweinsberg explains what’s next.

AUDIO: [Sound of voting]

SARAH SCHWEINSBERG, REPORTER: House Democrats and Republicans largely voted along party lines: 236 to 173—Eight Republicans crossed the aisle to support the legislation.

Three hours of floor debate highlighted the ideological divide behind those votes.

Congressman Mark Pocan from Wisconsin is openly gay. Holding up a picture his husband and himself, he said the Equality Act is about protecting people like them.

POCAN:  If we pass the Equality Act, people like Phil and I can love who we want to love, we can live where we want to live, and we can work where we want to work without being fired or evicted simply because of who we are or who we love. 

But Republicans had a long list of reasons why those protections will come at the expense of other people’s constitutional rights. Georgia Congressman Doug Collins said the legislation targets virtually all the world’s major religions.

COLLINS: Biological sex is a scientific reality and H.R. 5 would target faith traditions that acknowledge it as such and want to live their lives accordingly.

Several Republican lawmakers also highlighted how the Equality Act will negatively affect women’s and parental rights. Congresswoman Debbie Lesko is a Republican from Arizona. She said the bill should really be called the forfeiting women’s rights act.

LESKO: H.R. 5 puts women at risk by promoting a federal law that would overrule any restriction on gender identity claims and abolish the protections of biological sex specific practices and spaces. H.R. 5 will eliminate, eliminate, women’s and girls’ sports.

Democratic lawmakers introduced the first version of the Equality Act after the 2015 Supreme Court decision legalizing gay marriage. Republicans controlled the House then, so the bill didn’t gain any traction. But it’s slowly been building momentum with each legislative session.

KAO: What the Equality Act would do is basically you would enshrine particular viewpoints, ideologies and make them into civil rights.

Emilie Kao is a religion and civil freedoms attorney at The Heritage Foundation. She has a long list of civil liberty violations and legal problems the bill would create.

KAO: Freedom of religion, freedom of conscience, particularly for medical professionals would be affected. The freedom of speech would be affected by a mandated use of preferred pronoun. Parental rights would be affected by a transgender medical mandate. The imposition of LGBT curricula in schools and the rights of women and girls safety and privacy would also be undermined by the Equality Act.

And Kao insists the Equality Act simply isn’t necessary.  

KAO: Because there is such widespread support for LGBT people, I don’t think that there is a lot of widespread discrimination that these groups are pointing to when they talk about the Equality Act.

The Equality Act now heads to the Republican-controlled Senate, where it most likely will fail. Even if it did pass, President Trump would probably veto it. But if history is any indicator, this is not the last time Democrats will try to get the Equality Act signed into law.

Reporting for WORLD Radio, I’m Sarah Schweinsberg.

(Kevin Wolf/AP Images for Human Rights Campaign) Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin is joined by members of Congress and advocates during a Human Rights Campaign news conference outside the Capitol before the historic House vote on the Equality Act on Friday, May 17, 2019 in Washington. 

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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