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House passes Equality Act in move to expand LGBTQ protections

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., speaks alongside fellow Democrats after the House on Thursday voted 224-206 to approve the Equality Act, which aims to close gaps in current federal civil rights laws to protect the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., speaks alongside fellow Democrats after the House on Thursday voted 224-206 to approve the Equality Act, which aims to close gaps in current federal civil rights laws to protect the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI | License Photo

Feb. 25 (UPI) -- The House on Thursday passed one of President Joe Biden's top legislative priorities -- a bill that would extend protections against discrimination based on sex, sexual orientation or gender identity.

The bill, called the Equality Act, or House Resolution 5, was approved 224-206 in a floor vote.

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"It's been long enough. Discrimination against LGBTQ people needs to end. We need the Equality Act to be federal law NOW. This is about respect. This is about pride," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi wrote on Twitter following the vote.

Introduced in the House and Senate last week, the proposal aims to close gaps in current federal civil rights laws to protect the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities.

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House Democratic leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland said Wednesday the measure would codify into law the changes to expand discrimination protections for American LGBTQ communities.

"We think that's the right thing to do," he told reporters.

The U.S. Supreme Court extended workplace protections for the LGBTQ community in a ruling last summer, but advocacy groups such as the National Women's Law Center said the language granting those protections are still not spelled out in federal laws.

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"These protections would apply in the contexts of housing, public accommodations, credit, federally funded programs (including education) and federal jury service," the NWLC said in a statement.

"In line with the U.S. Supreme Court's decision, the Equality Act would make clear that discrimination against LGBTQ individuals in all of these settings is unlawful."

Rep. David N. Cicilline, D-R.I., who introduced the bill in the House, said it would provide protections in employment, education, credit, jury service, federal funding, housing and public accommodations.

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"In 2021, every American should be treated with respect and dignity," he said in a statement last week. "Yet, in most states, LGBTQ people can be discriminated against because of who they are, or who they love."

Biden promoted the issue many times during his campaign last year and it is said to be among his top legislative priorities in the early stages of his administration.

The bill faces considerably more uncertainty in the Senate, where Democrats hold a one-vote advantage. They would need, however, several Republicans to vote in favor of the bill to invoke cloture and end a GOP-led filibuster.

"LGBTQ+ rights are human rights. The House just passed the Equality Act. And we're working to pass it in the Senate so President Biden can sign it," Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer wrote on Twitter Thursday.

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University of Virginia law professor Douglas Laycock, who has opposed the Equality Act in the past, told NPR he supports adding the changes to federal law -- but believes the proposal is too restrictive in allowing people to defend themselves against claims of discrimination.

"It protects the rights of one side, but attempts to destroy the rights of the other side," Laycock said. "We ought to protect the liberty of both sides to live their own lives by their own identities and their own values."

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