Editorial: Pass the Equality Act


The ISD Editorial Board explains why the Equality Act, which protects LGBTQA+ people from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, should be passed.

Editorial Board

The Equality Act, a bill that would ban discrimination against people based on sexual orientation and gender identity, was introduced last month. This bill is incredibly important and would provide an opportunity for our government to make great strides toward equity within this country. We, as the Iowa State Daily Editorial Board, support the passage of this bill.

The Equality Act would provide clear non-discrimination protections for LGBTQIA+ people across key areas of life, including employment, housing, credit, education, public spaces and services, federally funded programs and jury service. 

The Human Rights Campaign website says, “The Equality Act would amend existing civil rights law including 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 employment with the federal government to explicitly include sexual orientation and gender identity as protected characteristics.” 

The legislation also amends the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to prohibit discrimination in public spaces and services and federally funded programs on the basis of sex. Additionally, the Equality Act would update the public spaces and services covered in current law to include retail stores, services such as banks and legal services and transportation services. These updates would strengthen existing protections for every protected class in the United States.

This means the Equality Act would affect businesses like flower shops and bakeries that have been seen at the center of discrimination court cases in recent years. So, for example, a baker who doesn’t want to provide a cake for a same-sex wedding would not be able to refuse service for that reasoning anymore.

“Just as [a business] would not be able to turn away somebody for any other prohibited reason in the law, they would not be able to do that for LGBTQ people either. And we think that’s a really important principle to maintain,” said Ian Thompson, senior legislative representative at the ACLU, in a NPR article.

By explicitly and clearly including sexual orientation and gender identity in these laws, LGBTQIA+ people will be afforded the exact same protections as other protected classes under federal law.

We have covered what the Equality Act is and what it will do, but some people may question why we need this legislation at this time when LGBTQIA+ people already have the legal right to marry in the United States. We need this legislation because living a full and open life goes beyond just the right to marry.

In June 2020, the Supreme Court ruled in Bostock v. Clayton County that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity because they are types of sex discrimination. This ruling, while incredibly important and a landmark in and of itself, only prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity by including it under the umbrella of “sex.”

The Equality Act is still necessary because it clearly identifies that sexual orientation and gender identity are their own protected classes and that all forms of discrimination against people with those identities are prohibited.

Furthermore, President Joe Biden issued an executive order directing agencies to appropriately interpret the Bostock ruling to apply not just to employment discrimination but to other areas of law where sex discrimination is prohibited, including education, housing and health care, doing parts of what the Equality Act will do under the “sex” umbrella. However, a future administration may refuse to interpret the law this way and undo this executive order, thus removing those protections for LGBTQIA+ people. 

The Equality Act would also be national, covering states that do not have LGBTQA+ anti-discrimination laws. According to the Human Rights Campaign website, 27 states do not have those laws. 

In the 2021 legislative session in Iowa, 15 anti-LGBTQIA+ bills were introduced. Now, all of them failed to make it past the first legislative funnel, but if the Equality Act was passed, most of those laws would never have been an option in the first place, thus protecting LGBTQIA+ Iowans.

So, yes, some of the protections put forth in the Equality Act are already in place currently, but they are nowhere near enough. They could easily be overturned and changed; therefore, Congress must pass the Equality Act to ensure future administrations fully enforce non-discrimination laws.

The Equality Act was introduced in the House of Representatives by Rep. David Cicilline on Feb. 18 and in the Senate by Sen. Jeff Merkley, Sen. Tammy Baldwin and Sen. Cory Booker on Feb. 23. 

The Equality Act passed in the U.S. House of Representatives on Feb. 25 with a bipartisan vote of 224-206.

It is time for the U.S. Senate to do the same.