White House Endorses LGBT Anti-Discrimination Bill

By Ruby Mellon with Huffington Post

WASHINGTON -- The White House has endorsed historic legislation that would give lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals full federal protection from discrimination, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Tuesday. 

"It is now clear that the administration strongly supports the Equality Act," Earnest said at a briefing. "That bill is historic legislation that would advance the cause of equality for millions of Americans."

The Equality Act of 2015, which was introduced to Congress in July, would amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to include sexual orientation and gender identity as federally protected categories. The amended law would ban the discrimination of LGBT individuals from areas such as housing, public accommodations and some employment.

LGBT rights activists rejoiced when the Supreme Court ruled this summer that same-sex marriage is a constitutional right, but many LGBT individuals still suffer discrimination in their own states because there is no federal mandate of protection. 

"In most states, you can get married on Saturday, post your wedding photos to Facebook on Sunday, and then get fired on Monday just because of who you are," Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) said when introducing the bill to the House in July. 

Only about half of the the country lives in an area where the LGBT community is protected from employment discrimination, according to an October report from the Movement Advancement Project, an independent think tank that focuses on LGBT issues.

Last week, voters in Houston overturned the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, or HERO, which would have protected LGBT individuals against discrimination in the workplace, as well as other areas.

The White House has waited until now to support the Equality Act because it wanted to evaluate the effect the law would have on certain government policies and programs, Earnest said.

"After concluding that review and determining that...this kind of legislation would achieve the desired effect...we believe that we can support it," Earnest said.

Many people who oppose legislation of this kind argue that it is an infringement on their religious beliefs. But Earnest said that as long as such legislation balances LGBT equal rights with constitutional religious freedom, the administration can support the bill.

"We have articulated about the importance of equal rights and making sure that people can't be discriminated against because of who they love, while, you know, at the same time making sure that we can protect religious liberty," he said. 

The Human Rights Campaign, a major LGBT rights group, commended the administration's statement Tuesday. 

“By endorsing the Equality Act, the White House sent a strong message that it’s time to put the politics of discrimination behind us once and for all," said HRC President Chad Griffin.

"Now it’s time for Congress to act," Griffin added. "Everyone should be able to live free from fear of discrimination and have a fair chance to earn a living and provide for their families, including people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender."