House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) speaks to the press prior to the House passage of the “Equality Act” at the Capitol in Washington, D.C., February 25, 2021. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

The Democrat-controlled House on Thursday passed the Equality Act, sweeping legislation that would add sexual orientation and transgender status as protected classes under the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

The legislation, passed in a vote of 224-206, would amend federal civil rights laws to solidify protections for LGBTQ Americans in employment, education, housing, credit, jury service and other areas. President Biden has called the bill “a critical step toward ensuring that America lives up to our foundational values of equality and freedom for all.”

While the House passed the same legislation two years ago, it was later stopped by the Republican-controlled Senate. However, Democrats now control both chambers of Congress and the presidency. 

Yet the legislation will still meet a hurdle in the evenly divided Senate, where it will need 60 votes to overcome a legislative filibuster. 

Republicans have argued that the bill endangers both women’s safety as it clearly states that “(with respect to gender identity) an individual shall not be denied access to a shared facility, including a restroom, a locker room, and a dressing room, that is in accordance with the individual’s gender identity.”

It would also expand the number of businesses that count as “public accommodations” — and therefore are subject to the act — to include establishments such as shelters and salons.

The bill also endangers religious freedom, they argue, as it regulates religious nonprofits and says the Religious Freedom Restoration Act would not apply to any claim under the Equality Act.

“We have passed it in the House before — the Equality Act, H.R. 5, to end discrimination against the LGBTQ community,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) said Thursday morning before the bill’s passing. “This time, it will be not only passed in the House, but on a path to a signing at the White House. We’re very excited about that.”

Senator Susan Collins (R., Maine), who was the only GOP senator to cosponsor the Equality Act in 2019, reportedly will not cosponsor the legislation this time around due to unresolved problems in the bill.

“There were certain provisions of the Equality Act which needed revision,” Collins told the Washington Blade on Thursday. “Unfortunately the commitments that were made to me were not [given] last year.”

Collin’s press office later added: “Senator Collins is a longtime supporter of LGBTQ rights, and she has repeatedly stood up for the LGBTQ community, including at times when many of her colleagues on both sides of the aisle did not. … The Equality Act was a starting point for negotiations, and Senator Collins agreed to introduce it with the agreement that all of the cosponsors would work together to make further changes.  Unfortunately, they were unwilling to work out those changes. Senator Collins supports ensuring fairness and equal treatment of all Americans, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, and she is considering all possible options to do so, including introducing her own bill.”

A number of Republicans have taken issue with the bill, including Representative Andrew Glyde of Georgia, who has argued that the legislation would violate women’s right to privacy and safety in locker rooms and showers.

He also criticized the bill’s provisions on medical treatments such as cross-sex hormones and surgeries for minors as “child abuse.”

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