Congressional Democrats in both chambers introduced a comprehensive LGBT civil rights bill on Thursday called the Equality Act.
The historic measure would add "sexual orientation" and "gender identity" to existing federal anti-discrimination protections in the areas of employment, education, credit, housing, public services and space, federal funding and jury service. Under the Equality Act, existing federal civil rights laws, including the Civil Rights Act of 1964, would be amended to include these protections for LGBT people.
"Illinois has demonstrated that LGBT-inclusive civil rights protections are effective and can be applied nationally," Equality Illinois CEO Bernard Cherkasov said in a statement. "In the majority of states, you can now be married one day and fired the next simply because of who you are and whom you love. The Equality Act would protect LGBT Americans from that wrong-headed behavior and so much more. We at Equality Illinois applaud its introduction."
LGBT people in Illinois have protections from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity because of a 2005 amendment to the Illinois Human Rights Act.
Illinois is one of only 19 states plus the District of Columbia with laws protecting LGBT people from discrimination in the workplace.
While the Equality Act faces tough odds in the Republican-controlled Congress, Equality Illinois is at least one group that plans to build support for the bill among the Illinois Congressional Delegation.
"In Illinois, we are proud that every pro-equality law passed the state legislature with bipartisan support," Cherkasov said. "It is important now for the Illinois congressional to demonstrate to the U.S. House and Senate in Washington that same bipartisan support. We urge all members of the Illinois congressional delegation - Republicans and Democrats - to follow the Land of Lincoln's lead by supporting and co-sponsoring the Equality Act."
Other groups are reacting to the proposed legislation, including the National Partnership for Women & Families. The organization's president Debra Ness issued these remarks:
The introduction of the Equality Act today by Senators Jeff Merkley (D - Ore.), Tammy Baldwin (D - Wis.) and Cory Booker (D - N.J.) and Representatives David Cicilline (D - R.I.) and John Lewis (D - Ga.) marks a historic moment in our nation's march toward full equality. For too long, discrimination has been allowed in our nation's workplaces, public spaces, schools, housing and elsewhere due to exclusions in our nation's civil rights laws. This bill would help change that and benefit women, LGBT people and our nation tremendously. It is past time.
The Equality Act would extend critical civil rights protections to millions of women and LGBT people in this country, too many of whom suffer blatant discrimination simply because of their sex, sexual orientation or gender identity. It is especially appalling that, with marriage equality finally the law of the land, individuals can still be fired or denied housing because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. And it is outrageous that women are still refused equal protection in public spaces and federally funded programs, despite having had equal employment protections in place for 50 years. The country can - and must - do better.
By amending existing federal civil rights laws to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex, sexual orientation and gender identity in public accommodations and in federally funded programs or activities, the Equality Act would establish long overdue protections for women and LGBT people. It would also amend existing laws to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in education, employment, housing, credit, and federal jury service. This is a hugely significant step toward eradicating the discrimination suffered by LGBT people and their families.
The National Partnership commends the members of Congress who are pushing for equal rights for all by introducing and championing this bill. It is a critically important proposal that should be a priority for every lawmaker who supports equal rights and opportunities. When inequality, bias and discrimination are allowed to continue, they do grave harm to our families and communities, our society, and our nation's quest for truly equal opportunity. No one should experience or have to worry about discrimination based on sex, sexual orientation or gender identity. We will all be better off when the Equality Act becomes law.