May 17 (UPI) -- For the first time ever Friday, a house of Congress passed a bill that comprehensively bars discrimination against persons in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community -- although the proposal now faces a much tougher battle in the upper chamber.
The House passed the Equality Act by a vote of 236-173. The bill amends the 1964 Civil Rights Act and Fair Housing Act to cover LGBT-based discrimination. Judiciary committee chairman Jerrold Nadler said the law would expand the definition of "who is understood to be included in the Declaration of Independence."
The bill seeks to bar such discrimination in employment, housing, jury selection and public accommodations. Every Democrat voted for the bill, along with eight Republicans.
While federal laws exist barring discrimination based on religion, race, sex and disability, there are presently no statutes to protect persons from the same kind of treatment due to gender identity or sexual lifestyle.
"This legislation will provide members of [LGBT] Americans protections from being denied medical care or being fired or thrown out of their homes," Nadler said.
Civil rights leader and Georgia Rep. John Lewis applauded the vote.
"Today on this day we have an opportunity to send a message now to help end discrimination in our country and set all of our people free," he said.
The bill had the backing of more than 200 businesses, including Facebook, Google, Hilton and JP Morgan Chase.
Some Republicans argue the bill doesn't equalize anything.
"In fact, this bill legalizes discrimination -- government imposed top-down discrimination against those with time-honored views of marriage and gender," said Missouri Rep. Vicky Hartzler.
The Heritage Foundation opposes the bill, saying it would "force employers and workers to conform to new sexual norms" and "force hospitals and insurers provide and pay for these therapies against any moral or medical objections" and lead "to the erasure of women."
While the bill passed a historic test in the House, it faces a much tougher path through the Senate. It's possible Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell won't even raise the proposal for a vote in the Republican-controlled chamber -- the same way he didn't for a bill this month that blocked the United States' withdrawal from the Paris climate change agreement.
"I hope that Senator McConnell will bring this bill to floor as soon as possible," said Rhode Island Rep. David Cicilline, a co-sponsor of the bill. "If he chooses not to do so, his constituents will have a chance to hold him accountable in just 18 months.
"The LGBTQ community has waited nearly 250 years for full equality in our country. Today, we're one step closer to that goal."
Advocates are celebrating the bill because it's the first time such legislation has received a full vote from either chamber of Congress.