Washington, D.C. – Today, House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) delivered the following opening remarks for the first ever markup of H.R. 5, the Equality Act, which explicitly prohibits discrimination against the LGBTQ community:
“Today, the Judiciary Committee considers H.R. 5, the ‘Equality Act.’ This is long-overdue legislation that will explicitly prohibit discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and gender non-conforming Americans and strengthen non-discrimination protections for women and others.
“We have endeavored, as a nation, to ensure that everyone is able to participate fully in the American way of life. Discrimination goes against the very structure of our democracy, and our basic sense of fairness, by deeming some of those among us as less deserving of respect, less equal and, frankly, less human. It is time that we make clear that we support equal worth and equal rights of all people—including every LGBTQ person in this country.
“As part of our hearing last month on this legislation, we heard about the enduring, painful discrimination faced by LGBTQ people in this country,—including families being denied medical care, and individuals being fired simply for being transgender. These stories reflect only a fraction of the humiliation and loss of dignity faced by LGBTQ people when they encounter discrimination.
“Much of the history of the United States has been expanding the definition of who is understood to be included when the Declaration of Independence says, ‘all men are created equal.’ When these words were first written, that phrase did not include black and Latino men; it did not include Native Americans; it did not include women; and it did not include LGBTQ individuals.
At this moment we have an opportunity to continue our march toward justice—to enshrine in our nation’s laws protections for marginalized communities to ensure that everyone can fully participate in key areas of life, and to provide them recourse in the face of discrimination.
“The Equality Act will do so by amending our existing statutes—namely the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Fair Housing Act, the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, the Jury Selection and Services Act, and several laws regarding federal employment by either adding sex—including sexual orientation and gender identity—as a protected characteristic or, where sex is already included as a protected characteristic, by explicitly clarifying that sex discrimination includes discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. It will also expand the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to clarify the definition of public accommodations to ensure that a broader range of establishments, including retail stores and services such as banking, are covered by its protections.
“It is time that the federal government recognizes that discrimination in any form is wrong, and that we should move forward with these common sense protections that simply build on existing statutes.
“I understand there are concerns about how this bill would interact with individual religious freedom. One of the reasons the Equality Act amends the Civil Rights Act and other civil rights laws is to maintain the same critical balance between the government’s compelling interest in eradicating discrimination and in supporting religious liberty that has been struck in our nation’s civil rights laws, and upheld by the courts, for more than five decades.
“Religious organizations and institutions will still have the ability under the Equality Act—as they do now—to decide who is a member of their faith. Priests, Rabbis and Imams will still be able to decide what religious services to provide and to whom. Just as houses of worship retain the ability to determine which couples they will marry post Obergefell, under the Equality Act, houses of worship and affiliated religious institutions will still be free to decline membership, admittance or services to anyone they wish.
“The Equality Act only mandates that businesses and services offered to the general public are offered to the entire public, without discrimination. If you offer a catering hall for rent, enroll students, or provide medical services to the public without regards to religion, you must do so for all—you cannot single out individual races, religions or, as made explicit by the Equality Act, LGBTQ people for exclusion. Religion is no excuse for discrimination in the public sphere, as we have long recognized when it comes to race, color, sex, and national origin—and it should not be an excuse when it comes to sexual orientation or gender identity.
“That LGBTQ people are included when we speak about the general public—that they are part of our American collective—is really the heart of the issue before us. Several states and localities already provide certain important protections for LGBTQ individuals and we have not seen any of the parade of horribles that I expect to hear from the other side today.
“But, as was made clear by our witnesses, sadly in many parts of this country, where these protections do not exist, LGBTQ people face difficult and immoral challenges to their ability to live a dignified life.
“The Equality Act would provide uniform protection for certain basic, fundamental rights of all Americans. The ability to have a job, to receive medical care, or to rent a home should not depend on who someone is or where they live. And it certainly should not depend on who they love. By allowing an entire class of Americans to be held back by discrimination, we hold back our entire country. Today, we take an important step toward moving our nation forward instead.
“I want to thank the Gentleman from Rhode Island, Mr. Cicilline, for introducing this important legislation, and I urge my colleagues to support the bill.”