Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer told Long Island's largest gay rights advocacy group Thursday that a bill enshrining and extending legal protections for the LGBTQ population in areas ranging from housing to loan applications will for the first time be brought to the Senate floor for a vote.
The Democratic-led House on Thursday passed the Equality Act, which would amend the 1964 Civil Rights Act to prevent businesses and other institutions from discriminating against people based on sexual orientation and gender identity as opposed to the protections included under the umbrella term of "sex."
The final vote was 224-206. Three Republicans joined Democrats in supporting it.
The act passed the House in the previous Congress with unanimous Democratic support and the backing of eight Republicans but was not considered in the Senate by then-Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican who opposed the measure.
"McConnell created the legislative graveyard and anything the House passed with a Democratic majority he wouldn't bring to the floor," Schumer, a co-sponsor of the Senate bill, said during the New York LGBT Network's annual legislative breakfast, held virtually this year because of the pandemic.
"As majority leader, I can't force everyone to vote for these things but I can bring it to the floor and we can spotlight who is with us and who is against us," Schumer said.
While the Senate is split 50-50, with Vice President Kamala Harris serving as the tiebreaker, the bill faces an uphill battle, with passage dependent on Democrats securing 60 votes to avoid a filibuster. To date, the bill does not have 10 GOP supporters — many Republicans oppose the bill, arguing it would infringe on religious liberty. Democrats do not appear willing to eliminate the legislative filibuster, which would allow the measure to pass on a simple majority vote.
Last June, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Civil Rights Act applied to LGBTQ workers and prohibited discrimination on the basis of sex. The Equality Act would explicitly enshrine those protections in employment, housing, jury service, credit, education and "public accommodations," including restaurants, senior centers, stadiums and retail stores.
David Kilmnick, president of the Hauppauge-based New York LGBT Network, which officially changed its name Thursday from The LGBT Network, said advocates will be reaching out to lawmakers across the country urging support for the bill.
"We are going to do everything in our power to make sure that the votes are there," Kilmnick said Thursday. "LGBTQ rights are human rights. It's not a Democratic issue or a Republican issue."
President Joe Biden has called the bill one of his top legislative priorities and issued a statement supporting the legislation when it was introduced by House Democrats last week.
Opponents, including religious organizations and social conservatives, contend the bill would harm groups that want to refuse service to LGBTQ Americans based on their religious beliefs.
The conservative Heritage Foundation said the bill "would force employers, medical professionals, educators, and religious organizations to allow men into women’s shelters, pay for or perform sex-change operations, and engage in speech that violates their consciences."