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H.R. 5: Equality Act

May 17, 2019 at 12:12 p.m. ET. On Passage of the Bill in the House.

This was a vote to pass H.R. 5 in the House.

Should the 1964 law which outlawed race discrimination be updated to include LGBT individuals too?

Context

Great strides have been made this decade for legal equality based on sexual orientation or gender identity, including permitting openly gay troops in the military and the Supreme Court legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide. However, both those gains came at the federal level.

28 states still allow discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity on the state level, including in such sectors as employment and housing.

States used to similarly allow other forms of discrimination, before the Civil Rights Act of 1964 banned any discrimination or segregation on the basis of four categories: race, color, religion, or national origin.

What the legislation does

The Equality Act would add sexual orientation and gender identity to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, enshrining such nondiscrimination protections under federal law.

The House version was introduced on March 13 as bill number H.R. 5, by Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI1). The Senate version was introduced the same day as bill number S. 788, by Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR).

What supporters say

Supporters argue the legislation would extend the federal protections against racial discrimination, which the vast majority across the political spectrum now agree was the correct decision, to another class of minorities who may need it.

“To dismantle the discrimination undermining our democracy, we must ensure that all Americans, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, are treated equally under the law,” lead sponsor Rep. Cicilline and Speaker Nancy Pelosi wrote in an op-ed for The Advocate, “not just in the workplace, but in education, housing, credit, jury service and public accommodations as well.”

“50 percent of the national LGBTQ community still live in states that fail to provide clear legal protections to their LGBTQ citizens,” Reps. Cicilline and Pelosi continued. “While these states try to stand against the tide of progress, the Equality Act will guarantee a nationwide standard to ensure that no American is ever forced to lose their job or home or live in fear simply because of who they are or whom they love.”

What opponents say

Opponents counter that the bill could undermine religious freedom, medical doctors’ practices, and parental rights.

“Ultimately, parents’ rights to educate their own children and seek the best medical treatment for them would be undermined,” a letter by the Conservative Action Project reads. “In Ohio, a judge terminated a couple’s custody of their 17-year daughter when they disagreed with the recommendations of a gender clinic and county agency that she take testosterone injections.”

“Medical professionals will be vulnerable to lawsuits if they decline to perform hormonal or medical procedures on patients who identify as transgender,” the letter continues. “Under the Equality Act, individuals and institutions could see increased lawsuits for failing to affirm same-sex marriage (in foster care and adoption), make single-sex private facilities co-ed, and use preferred pronouns for individuals who identify as transgender.”

Odds of passage

The bill first attracted 240 House cosponsors: 237 Democrats and three Republicans, the 32nd-most cosponsored bill this Congress. That was larger than previous versions: 201 cosponsors (199 Democrats and two Republicans) in 2017, and 178 cosponsors (176 Democrats and two Republicans) in 2015.

The bill passed the Democratic-controlled House by a 236–173 vote, on May 17. All voting Democrats voted in favor, 228–0. Republicans overwhelmingly opposed, 8–173.

The eight House Republicans in favor were Reps. Susan Brooks (R-IN5), Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL25), Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA1), Will Hurd (R-TX23), John Katko (R-NY24), Tom Reed (R-NY23), Elise Stefanik (R-NY21), and Greg Walden (R-Or2).

Odds of passage in the Republican-controlled Senate are slim. The Senate version has 46 cosponsors: 45 Democrats or Democratic-affiliated independents, plus Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME).

President Trump does not appear to have personally weighed in on the bill, although a senior administration official told the Washington Blade that Trump opposes it. However, back in 2000, Trump endorsed the idea.

“I like the idea of amending the 1964 Civil Rights Act to include a ban of discrimination based on sexual orientation,” Trump told The Advocate in a 2000 interview. “It would be simple. It would be straightforward. We don’t need to rewrite the laws currently on the books, although I do think we need to address hate-crimes legislation. But amending the Civil Rights Act would grant the same protection to gay people that we give to other Americans — it’s only fair.”

Totals

All Votes D R
Aye 58%
 
 
236
228
 
8
 
No 42%
 
 
173
0
 
173
 
Not Voting
 
 
23
7
 
16
 

Passed. Simple Majority Required. Source: house.gov.

Ideology Vote Chart

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Cartogram Map

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Study Guide

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You can find answers to most of the questions below here on the vote page. For a guide to understanding the bill this vote was about, see here.

What was the procedure for this vote?

  1. What was this vote on?
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    This vote is related to a bill. However, that doesn’t necessarily tell you what it is about. Congress makes many decisions in the process of passing legislation, such as on the procedures for debating the bill, whether to change the bill before voting on passage, and even whether to vote on passage at all.

    You can learn more about the various motions used in Congress at EveryCRSReport.com. If you aren’t sure what the House was voting on, try seeing if it’s on this list.

  3. What is the next step after this vote?
  4. Take a look at where this bill is in the legislative process. What might come next? Keep in mind what this specific vote was on, and the context of the bill. Will there be amendments? Will the other chamber of Congress vote on it, or let it die?

    For this question it may help to briefly examine the bill itself.

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    One tool that will be helpful in answering this question is the cartogram at the top of the page. A cartogram is a stylized map of the United States that shows each district as an identical hexagon. This view allows you to see the how the representatives from each district voted arranged by their geography and colored by their political party. What trends can you see in the cartogram for this vote?

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