Why the Equality Act?
Even though the Supreme Court’s ruling has brought marriage equality to all 50 states, 31 states still lack clear, fully-inclusive non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people, meaning that despite the ruling, LGBTQ Americans can get legally married but still be at risk of being denied services for who they are or risk being fired simply for getting married and wearing their wedding ring to the office the next day. Discrimination is a real and persistent problem for too many LGBTQ Americans. Nearly two-thirds of self-identified LGBTQ Americans reported experiencing discrimination in their personal lives.
The problems come up over and over again in the 31 states that don’t have clear, fully-inclusive LGBTQ non-discrimination laws. There’s the teacher who was fired after her principal found out she was planning to have a child with her partner. There’s the lesbian couple asked to leave a park while shooting maternity photos. And the transgender woman shamefully denied housing at a shelter. Despite the incredible progress on issues from marriage to military service, these stories are far too common.
The Equality Act
The Equality Act, which was introduced by Senators Jeff Merkley, Tammy Baldwin, and Cory Booker, and Representatives David Cicilline and John Lewis, establishes explicit, permanent protections against discrimination based on an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity in matters of employment, housing, access to public places, federal funding, credit, education and jury service. In addition, it would prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex in federal funding and access to public places.
HRC’s Work to Support the Equality Act
Before the Equality Act’s introduction, HRC released new polling that shows support for federal non-discrimination protections exceeds even marriage equality. Likely voters support workplace non-discrimination protections by a massive 78 percent to 16 percent margin. This includes support from 90 percent of likely Democratic voters, two-thirds (64 percent) of likely Republican voters, and 70 percent of observant Christians. Moreover, nearly 60 percent of voters are less likely to support a candidate who doesn’t support such protections for LGBTQ people, including 61 percent of Independent voters and 58 percent of Catholic voters.
Prior to the Supreme Court’s ruling in June, HRC and the named plaintiff in the Supreme Court case, Jim Obergefell, traveled across the country to highlight the need for a federal non-discrimination bill. This included stops in Indianapolis, St Louis, Phoenix and Charlotte – all cities in states that lack explicit,fully-inclusive LGBTQ non-discrimination laws. The tour also stopped in San Francisco, and following the Supreme Court ruling late last month, it concluded with stops in Austin and Dallas.
In March 2015, HRC released national polling showing strong, bipartisan support for a federal non-discrimination bill. And HRC released a report in December 2015, Beyond Marriage Equality that highlighted how, historically, expansive legislation to address inequities is not unusual. The report details the history of such legislation, and highlights seven core areas where LGBTQ Americans lack consistent, permanent federal non-discrimination protections.
The overwhelming majority of America’s leading businesses already address workplace fairness for LGBTQ employees, recognizing that equality is good for the bottom line. Among Fortune 500 companies, 92% have sexual orientation non-discrimination protections in place, and 82% have gender identity. But we still need a federal standard that treats all employees the same.
Eighty-eight businesses have signed onto HRC's Business Coalition for the Equality Act. This group publicly support the federal fix to a patchwork of state and municipal protections that present challenges to employee mobility and safety. Equality is good for business, and these business leaders have endorsed legislation that follows their decades of experience and success in establishing consistent non-discrimination protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity.