The House Judiciary Committee on May 1 voted to send a comprehensive LGBTQ antidiscrimination bill known as the Equality Act to the floor of the House of Representatives for the first time in history, despite unified opposition from Republican committee members who were present.
The bill that would amend the 1964 Civil Rights Act and related federal laws to ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity has gained momentum since the Democrats snagged control of the lower chamber of Congress in November. Out gay Congressmember David Cicilline of Rhode Island re-introduced the bill in March, and it is expected to pass the House of Representatives — a significant feat for a piece of legislation that has died at the committee level on previous occasions.
But the bill is poised to stall in the GOP-controlled Senate, and that expectation that was reinforced further when House lawmakers voted along party lines in a 22-10 tally in the committee. The 10 Republicans to vote against the bill were Doug Collins of Georgia, Steve Chabot and Jim Jordan of Ohio, Louie Gohmert of Texas, Martha Roby of Alabama, Mike Johnson of Louisiana, Tom McClintock of California, Guy Reschenthaler of Pennsylvania, Ben Cline of Virginia, and Greg Steube of Florida.
Two Democrats — Karen Bass of California and Cedric Richmond of Louisiana — and seven Republicans were not present for the vote.
The vote did not come without deliberate obstruction from Republians on the committee. Homophobic Wisconsin GOP Congressmember Jim Sensenbrenner, who once voted to ban gay adoptions in Washington, DC, intentionally tried slowing down proceedings by forcing the clerk to read the entire 27-page bill.
“Mr. Chairman, I object to waiving the reading,” Sensenbrenner said. “You asked for unanimous consent, and I object.” Having demanded a reading of the bill, he apparently did not have the stamina to stay at the hearing for the vote.
The hearings leading up to the Equality Act exposed the deep homophobia and transphobia still permeating the conservative wing of Congress. Gohmert rambled rather incoherently during an April 2 hearing on the bill when he said the Equality Act would force the Olympics to change its new rules on testosterone. Also in that heaing, Congressmember Matt Gaetz prefaced his statement by saying he believes LGBTQ people shouldn’t face discrimination, but voiced opposition to the Equality Act because of his belief that it would “cause tremendous harm.” He claimed the bill exhibits a poor definition of gender identity and asked, “Will all sex-based distinction be erased?”
Gohmert continued to rip the bill in a subsequent hearing on May 1, saying the bill would “be used as a sword to strike down our religious freedoms because the words here have meaning just as they say.”
In a written statement following the May 1 vote, Cicilline called out his Republican colleagues for opposing a bill that would usher in widespread protections.
“It’s very disappointing that, in 2019, most of my Republican colleagues are standing on the wrong side of history,” the Rhode Island Democrat said. “This bill to end discrimination against the LGBTQ community is long overdue.”
The bill, which was also introduced in the Senate by Jeff Merkley of Oregon, has 240 co-sponsors in the House — including three Republicans: Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, John Katko of New York, and Puerto Rico’s Jenniffer González-Colon, who is a non-voting member.