Arguments pitting religious liberty against gay and transgender rights grew intense on the House floor Wednesday when lawmakers debated a bill that would prohibit discrimination against people based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
The House is set to vote on Thursday on H.R. 5, the Equality Act, which would also expand areas that already have gay and transgender discrimination protections.
When a voice vote was called to begin debate of the bill, Georgia Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, trying to delay Thursday’s vote, called for an adjournment vote. The motion failed 202 yeas to 214 nays. The subsequent rule votes for the bill on Wednesday went on as scheduled.
The legislation, which was introduced several times in prior years and last passed the lower chamber in 2019, would amend the 1964 Civil Rights Act to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
“That may be one of the worst pieces of legislation I’ve seen in a long time, and I’ve seen a lot of bad legislation. If it passes, it’s going to be on party line, but not only does it take religious liberty, freedom of association,” Rep. Andy Biggs, an Arizona Republican, told the Washington Examiner, “it impacts women’s sports. It redefines so much.”
The Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination in areas including employment and housing, while the Equality Act would also cover federally funded programs such as “public accommodations.”
The bill specifically references that it supersedes the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act. That law sets the standard for the government to defend laws if people claim their religious freedom has been infringed upon. The Equality Act would impact businesses including flower shops and bakeries, which have been at the center of gay and transgender versus religious right court cases in recent years.
Referencing women who experience post traumatic stress disorder following a sexual assault, Rep. Louie Gohmert, a Texas Republican, told the Washington Examiner he thinks the legislation victimizes them again.
“Well, the message of the Equality Act is, ‘Well, you’re just going to have to get over it because if a man wants to go into a women’s restroom and that’s where he feels like he should be, you are not going to be stopping him from doing no matter how traumatic it is,’” he said. “It’s really, just an incredible bill. And it also does massive damage to religious beliefs of most Christians, Jews, and Muslims, all from the Abrahamic faith.”
Democrats, however, say it’s necessary as a means to further equal rights for gay and transgender individuals.
“It’s a good step toward equality. It’s a good bill,” California Democratic Rep. Brad Sherman told the Washington Examiner. “It’s consistent with religious freedom, and it’s consistent with the rights of those members of our society.”
Unless the Senate changes ts filibuster rules, requiring 60 votes for passage, its future there is uncertain.