U.S. House votes to extend federal civil rights protections on basis of sexual orientation, gender identity

Rep. Betty McCollum
Rep. Betty McCollum: “This landmark legislation will protect all LGBTQ Americans from discrimination in employment, housing, access to public places, federal funding, credit, education and jury service.”

The U.S. House passed legislation Friday that would expand Federal civil rights protections on basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, as it stands, only explicitly provides protections for race, color, religion, sex and national origin. The legislation, entitled The Equality Act, would provide the aforementioned identities with protections related to public accommodations, education, federal funding, employment, housing, credit, and the jury system.

All five Minnesota Democrats in the House cosponsored the bill. It passed 236-173, with four Minnesota Democrats voting in favor and all three Minnesota Republicans voting against the bill. Rep. Collin Peterson cosponsored the bill, but was the only Democrat in the Minnesota delegation who did not vote.

Eight House Republicans in total voted for the bill, with two of them cosponsoring the legislation: Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania and Rep. John Katko of New York.

“This landmark legislation will protect all LGBTQ Americans from discrimination in employment, housing, access to public places, federal funding, credit, education and jury service,” said Rep. Betty McCollum, MN-3. “Minnesota has outlawed employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation since 1993, and it’s long past time the federal government do the same.”

Mirroring state protections

A handful of states already similar protections to those found in the House bill and Minnesota is one such state. The Minnesota Human Rights Act was first passed in 1973, but amended in 1993 to prohibit discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation, making it the first law in the country to do so.

Minnesota Commissioner Commissioner of Human Rights Rebecca Lucero said her department uses litigation as a tool to protect all Minnesotans from discrimination, regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity. “We know there is a lot of work to be done in Minnesota and across the country to breakdown implicit and explicit bias and violence, especially against trans women of color and gender nonconforming individuals,” she said.

Explicit protections related to gender identity,  like those that would be put into place by The Equality Act, are not codified into Federal law, although courts are currently deciding whether or not many of these same protections already apply under current law. The Department of Education under President Barack Obama did issue guidelines that extended Title IX protections of sex-discrimination to transgender students in 2014. Those guidelines were revoked last year by President Trump’s Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. The Minnesota Human Rights Act also provides these protections, and if signed into law, The Equality Act would as well.

“I do still think that Title IX does prohibit discrimination under transgender status, but that is something that will have to be decided by the courts,” said Teresa Nelson, Legal Director at the ACLU of Minnesota. “So having a state law that very explicitly says you can’t discriminate based on transgender status is very important in the absence of strong federal protections.”

Reps. Tom Emmer, of the sixth district, and Pete Stauber, of the eighth, did not respond to request for comment as to why they voted against the bill. First district Rep. Jim Hagedorn’s office said they would put out a statement on Friday but had yet to do so as of publication of this story.

Senate prospects

The bill will now move forward to the Senate, where their version of the bill has 47 sponsors and one Republican co-sponsor: Sen. Susan Collins of Maine. Both Senators from Minnesota support the legislation.

“This is a way of improving protections for everyone: whether it’s their workplace, going to school, wherever they are in the public sphere,” said Sen. Tina Smith.

The White House has not yet given a position on the bill, but like most bills to come out of the House, is not likely to make it past a Senate led by Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. Smith was candid about the bill’s prospects. “I hate to say it, but to be honest, I think the Senate has really just become a graveyard for almost all legislation. I’m not hopeful,” Smith said.

As to what she would say to her Republican colleagues, moving forward, she said that she wishes that the Senate took each piece of legislation on their own individual merits more seriously.

“Mitch McConnell has turned the Senate into a personnel agency for the White House. I think that’s a real shame,” she said. “I know that the Equality Act passed with a handful of Republican votes in the House and we should be able to see that same kind of bipartisan leadership in the Senate.”

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Comments (8)

  1. Submitted by Nicky Noel on 05/17/2019 - 04:21 pm.

    Why is Rep. McCollum’s photo and quote featured, but not Rep. Craig? Rep. Craig is our state’s first and only LGBT Member of Congress. She should be given this platform because among all of MN’s delegation, she is a unique stakeholder in this fight.

    • Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 05/18/2019 - 09:36 am.

      I find it absolutely appropriate and wise, to have a photo of a Democratic stalwart on this issue who happens to be straight. The issue is Constitutional fairness, not identity politics. And as a long-time feminist who is sympathetic to LGBT rights, I resist the concept that the only people who can speak about the issues facing a certain demographic are people within thoat demographic.

      Further note: Isn’t it a shame, that there are so many good things coming out of the newly-Democratic House of Representatives–including bi-partisan bills like this one–that simply go to die in the Senate without any consideration of the merits, ever? When will the GOP voter finally realize that the deadlock they bewail is a creation of the Republican party’s negativism and stonewalling, not a bi-partisan effort?

    • Submitted by JUDITH MONSON on 05/18/2019 - 11:24 am.

      I can reassure you Betty McCollum, who’s been around a long time — perhaps before you were born — is a stakeholder in this fight too. Gay or straight, this is important for all of us. I also think needing “a platform” is youngster talk — what we need are representatives who quietly go about their work, as Betty has for years. You don’t need to have heard of her. Like Betty, Angie is incredibly effective behind the scenes. That’s what counts! Notoriety? Oversold as important!

  2. Submitted by lee wick on 05/18/2019 - 08:17 am.

    I think this will bump heads with Title IX. We are already seeing conflicts in women’s sports.

  3. Submitted by Gene Nelson on 05/18/2019 - 10:45 am.

    I wish that those who claim Christian values actually had them. Christ asked of us to love all…that’s all…not just your white heterosexual neighbor…but all…and He never…not ever singled out and criticized the gays in His society of which there were many. He also asked of us to help the needy and yet our white evangelicals vote overwhelmingly repub…the party that does the complete opposite of what Christ asked of us.

  4. Submitted by David McCoy on 05/18/2019 - 01:19 pm.

    Another totally one-sided article from MinnPost.
    This is an extremely controversial bill, yet there is not one hint of that opposition mentioned in this piece.
    There is quote after quote after quote from the bill’s supporters, yet nothing from the other side.
    Yes, Emmer, Stauber, Hagedorn did not comment, but there were quotes from two non-elected officials in support.
    All you have to do is Google “opposition to Equality Act” to discover that there is another side to this story that is completely ignored by this article.
    Really, MinnPost. I used to expect better from you.

    • Submitted by Joel Stegner on 05/18/2019 - 03:45 pm.

      If the three Republicans who voted against it cannot immediately explain why, that leaves us to guess. Of course if bigotry or political expediency drove their votes, they are not going to make themselves look bad by talking about it. Both sides were reported. For one side, “no comment.”

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 05/20/2019 - 12:36 pm.

      Since MinnPost focuses on Minnesota politics, it seems appropriate to ask the three Minnesota representatives who voted “no,” in order to get the balanced view.

      Whom should they have asked otherwise? Some fanatical homophobe who condemns Fred Phelps for his timidity and moderation?

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