Many Americans live without full constitutional rights, constantly fearful that a patchwork of protections will be erased with the next election cycle. They are first responders, veterans, nurses, doctors, and neighbors. They’re also LGBTQ, and they continue to live in a world without the basic protections we guarantee all other American citizens.
Last February, the US House passed the Equality Act. Since then, the American people have awaited a vote in the Senate to finally give LGBTQ Americans the ability to live their lives freely. This bill would prohibit discrimination in areas including public accommodations and facilities, education, federally funded programs, employment, housing, credit, and jury service. LGBTQ Americans continue to face discrimination, in schools, public spaces, the workplace, health care organizations, and when interacting with the government, which leads directly to worse economic, physical, and mental well-being. The bill would update existing civil rights law to explicitly include sexual orientation, gender identity, and intersex status as unlawful grounds for discrimination — similar to race, color, religion, sex, and national origin.
With public support for the Equality Act rising to a critical stage, Congress should pass the bill. It will require at least 60 votes to pass the Senate and break a filibuster. For over 50 years, bills have been introduced to guarantee nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ Americans and yet have never passed. New England senators, including Republican Susan Collins and Angus King, an independent, have an important opportunity to advance LGBTQ rights.
We all have a strong relationship to our sexual orientation and gender identity. By codifying protections against discrimination, we strengthen rights for all Americans. This would not be a radical change but would be moral progress.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964, now considered landmark legislation, was filibustered and debated for months in the Senate until it was signed into law. Considered one of our country’s most significant legislative achievements, the law did not result in less freedom for subsets of American citizens but, instead, expanded freedom for all Americans.
Despite recent struggles, the United States continues to remain a moral voice of authority in the world, especially when compared with authoritarian states. The United States ranks higher than many other countries in LGBTQ rights and public acceptance and must remain a beacon of hope in forwarding human rights for all. Moreover, there have been significant changes in public opinion, as three-quarters of Americans support LGBTQ rights. Congress must listen to the voices of the majority, stand up for what is right, and codify protections for LGBTQ Americans.
In a nation built on the rule of law, we cannot rely solely on public opinion and moral outrage to protect these individual rights. This will only lead to further division under the guise of “identity politics.” This is instead about codifying American rights and fostering a healthier citizenry with more economic security. Put simply, we are stronger, as a nation, together. We must, together, explore that which unites us rather than what divides us. We must come together to advance freedom for all Americans.
The Equality Act will not give more rights to LGBTQ Americans than other citizens enjoy or result in fewer rights for others — just as women and Black Americans gaining the right to vote didn’t reduce the ability of others to vote. This legislation will not limit freedom of expression but will reinforce the protections supposedly enshrined in the First Amendment. Our experience in New England shows that we can protect all our civil rights and liberties, including the freedom of religion and protection from discrimination for LGBTQ people. Faith leaders agree, noting that the freedom to act on faith doesn’t imply the freedom to discriminate or impose religion on others.
Moderate Republicans and Democrats have a momentous opportunity to work across the aisle and secure freedom and liberty for some of the most vulnerable Americans. Congress should move the needle of justice forward to protect all Americans.
Dallas Ducar is the founding CEO of Transhealth Northampton.