House Passes LGBTQ-Rights Bill; Faces Long Odds in Senate

The U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday passed a bill to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, though Senate rules could make it difficult to get the measure to President Joe Biden to sign into law.

Even though the bill, H.R. 5, passed 224-206 in the House, it would need at least 60 votes to clear the 100-member Senate. Many Republicans, who control 50 seats, oppose the measure, saying it infringes on religious freedom.

The Equality Act would amend federal civil rights laws and extend protections to cover sexual orientation and gender identity in the workforce, public places and government programs. It would allow LGBTQ+ individuals to take civil action in court for alleged discrimination.

President Joe Biden previously pledged to sign the bill into law during his first 100 days in office. In a statement last week, Biden applauded the reintroduction of the bill by Representative David Cicilline, a Rhode Island Democrat, and urged Congress to swiftly pass it.

The bill passed the House in 2019, but it was ignored by the Senate, then controlled by Republicans. A smaller margin of House Republicans voted in support of the measure this time around.

Representatives John Katko and Tom Reed of New York and Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania voted in support of the bill in 2019 and were the only three Republicans who voted to pass it on Thursday.

Representatives Elise Stefanik, a New York Republican, and Mario Diaz-Balart, a Florida Republican, voted against the bill on Thursday after previously voting to pass it in 2019.

The remaining three Republican Representatives who voted “yes” the last time around, Susan Brooks of Indiana, William Ballard Hurd of Texas and Greg Walden of Oregon are no longer in office.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, said the days of Senate Republicans burying House-passed bills are over, and he pledged to put the Equality Act up for a vote “at the exact right time.”

Schumer described the bill as “critical civil rights legislation” and “essential, urgent and long overdue.”

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