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Joe Biden vowed to pass the Equality Act in his first 100 days. Here’s why he failed

Maggie Baska April 29, 2021
Joe Biden 100 days congress

President Joe Biden addresses a joint session of Congress in the House chamber of the US Capitol 28 April 2021 in Washington, DC on the eve of his 100th day in office. (Photo by Melina Mara-Pool/Getty Images)

As Joe Biden’s 100 day deadline to pass the Equality Act in to law lapses, the Senate is facing renewed calls to make the landmark legislation “a top priority”.

During his presidential campaign, Biden pledged to sign the Equality Act into law during his first 100 days in the White House, calling it a “top legislative priority”.

The House of Representatives passed the Equality Act on 25 February by a 224-206 vote. It advanced to the Senate, where it has been languishing ever since. The Equality Act’s fate remains unclear as Democrats and Republicans are evenly divided across the 100 members of the Senate. The bill needs to meet a traditional 60-vote threshold for it to eventually land on Biden’s desk to be signed into law.

Biden called for the Senate to swiftly pass the landmark legislation, which he has been promising for months. In his first address to a joint session of Congress Wednesday (28 April), Biden said: “I also hope Congress can get to my desk the Equality Act to protect the rights of LGBTQ Americans.”

Jennifer C Pizer, senior counsel and director of law and policy for Lambda Legal, told PinkNews that it was unsurprising that the Equality Act passed in the House quickly because it did so in 2019 when it was previously introduced. She explained that LGBT+ advocates have known “more conversations and related work would be needed on the Senate side” for it to pass.

But she said that “work is underway now” as the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing about the act in March. However, she told PinkNews there was “disturbingly fact-free opposition testimony” about trans women and the act’s “purported threats to religious organisations”.

“Since the hearing, conversations have been underway with a number of Republican senators and their staff to address questions – including some inspired by the inaccurate claims made by the bill’s opponents and by some Republican committee members,” Pizer said. “There are Republican senators who supported the bill in past Congresses and/or who have voiced support for non-discrimination protections, but with questions about how this bill would work.”

She said, “since we do have good answers” to those questions, it hasn’t been a problem to be in this “period of engagement with senators and their staff”. Pizer told PinkNews there are “gaps in federal law that we can’t address with sex discrimination litigation at this point” – which is why the Equality Act is so direly needed.

“The Equality Act will fill those gaps regarding public accommodations and federally funded programs,” Pizer explained. “So, yes, it is essential and urgent that the Senate pass the bill and send it to president Biden’s desk.”

There is hope for the Equality Act still. Democrat Wisconsin senator Tammy Baldwin, who is a co-sponsor of the Equality Act, told the Washington Blade on Monday (26 April) that lawmakers were continuing to talk about the landmark LGBT+ legislation.

“Conversations continue to try to get to 60 votes,” Baldwin said. “I am hoping to personally be involved in several of those before the recess next week, but they’re still tentative.”

Baldwin, who is the first out lesbian elected to the Senate, said there was “commitment” among a bipartisan group to “getting to ‘yes'”, but admitted “law-making is like sausage-making”.

On his first day in the Oval Office, Biden signed a blitz of executive orders including the “most substantive LGBT+ executive order in history”. Among the 17 executive orders signed that day, Biden issued one that reinforced Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Equality Act would amend the act to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, housing, public accommodations, public education, federal funding, credit and the jury system.

Alphonso David, president of the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), told PinkNews that the organisation is “incredibly proud” of the work the Biden administration has done to “protect and advance the rights of LGBTQ people here in the United States” and worldwide during his first 100 days in office.

He added in a further statement that passing the Equality Act “must be a top priority” for the Senate. David said: “Equality and justice are not partisan goals – they are the bedrock on which our country was founded.”

More than 400 major companies across the US have thrown their support behind the Equality Act, the HRC said. This included household names like Apple, PepsiCo, General Motors, Facebook, Marriott, Starbucks, Tesla, Pfizer and Amazon.

More: Equality Act, joe biden

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