A comprehensive LGBTQ nondiscrimination bill re-introduced March 13 has won overwhelming support among Democrats, but one holdout in the Senate as well as the former leader of the Log Cabin Republicans are opposing the bill by echoing the concerns most commonly spouted by the far right.
The Equality Act, which is expected to pass the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives, would amend the 1964 Civil Rights Act and related federal laws to ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, housing, public education, public accommodations, credit, federal funding, and the jury system.
Every Democratic member of the Senate has signed on to support the bill except for Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who said on March 18 that the current version does not provide “sufficient guidance to the local officials who will be responsible for implementing it, particularly with respect to students transitioning between genders in public schools.”
Manchin’s opposition to the bill, which is especially glaring considering that Maine Republican Senator Susan Collins is cosponsoring it as are two GOP members of the House, reflects the baseless common narrative among conservatives that transgender children have some ulterior motive to invade the wrong bathroom and prey on other students — an issue that has arisen recently in the senator’s home state, where a high school assistant principal last year allegedly told a transgender student “you freak me out” and that he “shouldn’t be in” the boys’ bathroom.
A spokesperson for Manchin did not immediately respond to inquiries about what kind of guidance, in the senator’s view, would be sufficient for him to support the bill. The senator’s office also did not respond to a question seeking more specific clarification on his reference to students transitioning.
The 71-year-old Manchin typically is among the most conservative Democrats in the Senate, and this is not the first time he has opposed LGBTQ rights measures. He was the only Democrat to vote against a 2010 provision to repeal the military’s ban on queer service members and has also opposed marriage equality.
Meanwhile, former Log Cabin President Gregory Angelo — who often retweets President Donald Trump on Twitter and recently pushed back on the notion that Vice President Mike Pence is an anti-gay bigot — railed against the Equality Act for different reasons in an op-ed for the Washington Examiner entitled “Don’t Fall for the Equality Act.”
Angelo stressed that the bill “astonishingly” has no religious exemptions, and he warned of a wide range of hot-button side effects to the legislation: Evangelical campuses “would see their nonprofit status jeopardized,” private businesses would be forced to participate in same-sex wedding celebrations, and Catholic Charities would lose federal funds for adhering to Catholic principles, he argued.
Angelo further suggested that because gay Americans, in his view, don’t face as much prejudice as they did when the first version of the bill was proposed in 1975, corporate America’s increasingly LGBTQ-friendly policies are sufficient to protect the community without needing “federal legislative coercion.”
Although the bill is poised to finally clear the House, it is likely to face stiff resistance in the GOP-controlled upper chamber — and seems likely that it won’t even reach the floor for a vote. Passing the House would nonetheless be a significant step forward for the future prospects of a bill that has not made it out of committee since its original introduction in its current form in 2015.