PROVIDENCE — US Representative David N. Cicilline says Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene just unintentionally showed why Congress needs to pass the Equality Act, the bill he has sponsored since 2016 to try to lock in legal safeguards for LGBTQ people.
Greene, a Georgia Republican, on Wednesday hung an anti-transgender sign outside her office to mock Representative Marie Newman, an Illinois Democrat who has a transgender daughter and had placed a transgender pride flag outside of her nearby office. “There are TWO genders,” Greene’s sign said. “Male & Female. Trust The Science!”
“It just shows you the level of ignorance about the issues affecting the LGBTQ community, particularly the level of bigotry and prejudice directed at the trans community,” Cicilline told the Globe Thursday night. “It shows why it is essential to pass the Equality Act — to reject the prejudice that exists, even right there in the halls of Congress.”
Earlier Thursday, the House voted 224-206 to pass the Equality Act, which would amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to expand federal protections for LGBTQ people by prohibiting discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation. Three Republicans joined Democrats in voting for the bill.
Now, the question is whether the legislation will pass the Senate, which is split 50-50 between Republicans and Democrats. To break a filibuster, 10 Republicans would be needed to pass the 60-vote threshold.
“There is no question we have work to do to secure passage in the Senate,” Cicilline said. “We knew that when we went into this.”
The House also passed the Equality Act in 2019, but then-President Donald J. Trump’s administration opposed it, and it was not considered by the Senate, then controlled by Republican.
One thing that is different now, Cicilline said, is that Democratic President Joe Biden has promised to make this legislation a priority.
Also, the public is now much more supportive than when he first proposed the legislation, Cicilline said, citing a 2020 Public Religion Research Institute poll that found 83 percent of Americans favor laws that would protect gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people against discrimination in jobs, public accommodations, and housing.
He said public sentiment is shifting in part because the legislation is supported by a broad coalition of groups ranging from the US Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers to the AFL-CIO and the NAACP.
“That coalition, along with the support of the people and the president, put us in a very strong position to place this legislation on President Biden’s desk,” Cicilline said.
He said he’s not assuming Republicans will use the filibuster. In the past, Republican “heroes” have supported civil rights legislation, and he remains convinced it’s only a matter of time before the Equality Act becomes law. “People will look back in history and say, ‘How did you vote on this?’” he said.
But Senate passage is by no means assured.
Senator Susan Collins, a Maine Republican, co-sponsored the Equality Act in 2019, but she has decided not to co-sponsor the bill again this year, the Washington Blade reported.
“There were certain provisions of the Equality Act which needed revision,” Collins was quoted as saying. “Unfortunately, the commitments that were made to me were not [given] last year.” She did not specify what provisions she wanted to revise.
When asked about Collins, Cicilline said, “There are a number of senators who we have to work with to gain support for the legislation and answer the concerns they have raised.”
Senator Mitt Romney, a Utah Republican, has raised concerns about religious liberty.
“Sen. Romney believes that strong religious liberty protections are essential to any legislation on this issue, and since those provisions are absent from this particular bill, he is not able to support it,” a spokeswoman told the Washington Blade.
Cicilline said, “The truth is religious exemptions that currently exist in the context of civil rights remain in place. The Equality Act doesn’t in any way infringe on people’s exercise of religious freedom or limit religious exemptions.”
Greene and other Republicans have argued that the Equality Act would eliminate protections for women by allowing transgender people to compete in sports. “The so-called ‘Equality’ Act will destroy women’s rights, competitive female sports, and religious freedom,” Greene tweeted. “It’s completely unconstitutional.”
Cicilline said most major women’s athletic organizations back the Equality Act, and he said there is no evidence that transgender people are competing in and winning women’s athletic events at a higher rate than cis gender women. Also, he said the Title IX federal civil rights law continues to provide protections to women. “This is a solution in search of a problem,” he said.
On Thursday, the Equality Act received support from Representative Al Green, a Black Texas Democrat who blasted Republicans for opposing the bill. “You used God to enslave my foreparents,” he said. “You used God to put me on the back of the bus. Have you no shame? God created every person in this room. Are you saying that God made a mistake?”
Green said, “My record will not show that I voted against Mr. (David) Cicilline having his rights. My record will show that when I had the opportunity to deliver liberty and justice for all, I voted for rights for all.”
US Representative James R. Langevin, a Rhode Island Democrat, voted for the Equality Act.
“As a member of the disability community, I understand the ugliness of discrimination and the harm it causes,” said Langevin, the first quadriplegic to serve in the House of Representatives. “Our nation is better than the bigoted impulses of a few, and with this measure we will live up to our inclusive ideals and values.”
US Senator Jack Reed, a Rhode Island Democrat, is co-sponsoring the Senate version of the Equality Act. In a statement, he said opponents imply that “enshrining equality for LBGTQ+ Americans” will erode the rights of others.
“That is simply not the case,” Reed said. “In Rhode Island and many other states, the laws of the Equality Act are already largely in effect. Every American, regardless of what state they live in, should have equal protection under the law. I urge my colleagues in the Senate to help bring this bill to the floor and let the Senate debate, vote, and work its will.”
US Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, a Rhode Island Democrat, also is backing the Equality Act.
“LGBTQ Americans deserve freedom from fear and discrimination, no matter which state they live in,” he tweeted. “I’m proud to join @davidcicilline in the fight to expand civil rights protections with the #EqualityAct.”