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Equality Act goes beyond gay marriage ruling’s impact

Equality Act goes beyond gay marriage ruling's impact

This year, the Supreme Court issued a ruling in favor of marriage equality for same-sex couples in the United States. While this is momentous progress for the LGBT community and the nation’s stance on equality, it is not a given shoe-in for the remainder of rights still needed.

There is still a critical lack of laws that pertain to equal rights for LGBT people and their families. Protection in the work place, housing, healthcare, and family status are just a few areas of concern and remain unresolved. Examples of this are being (legally) fired for being gay or being denied a spouse’s employment healthcare benefits for not being in an opposite sex marriage.

While some may assume that the fight for equality is over, the right of marriage is only one right in a multi-faceted scope of measurement of one’s quality of life. The nation’s LGBT citizens are still facing discrimination. This discrimination is now being legally challenged by the Equality Act.

If we look back to the civil rights era in the United States, we can see similarities in cases and the progression of legislation. Jim Crow laws kept equality at bay. Segregation and discrimination were overt actions to keep African-American people from integrating and having the same opportunities as their white counterparts. Laws protected the mainstream agenda of that time and ignored an entire class of people based on a characteristic of nature that was never a choice.

Like oppression based on race inferiority, sexual orientation is no longer deemed a defect. Just as the civil rights era gave us a series of case law to further enact the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the current state of LGBT equality will depend on a continuous legal battle for inclusion into the same federal act.

H.R. 3185, The Equality Act, was introduced on July 23, 2015. It was headed by Senators Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.), and Cory Booker (D-N.J.), and Representatives David Cicilline (D-R.I.) and John Lewis (D-Ga.). The bill was referred to the Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice and is currently under committee consideration.

In other words, this bill is in the earliest stages of becoming a law. It has a long way to go, still needing to pass the Senate, House, and be approved by our President. The Equality Act would give a legal remedy to LGBT people who face discrimination per federal law.

The bill, if successful, would amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to strike the sole class of sex and include “sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity” to the existing list of prohibited classifications of discrimination. While “sex” is currently a protected status, its interpretation has varied in case law and caused unnecessary hardships for legal advocates and the LGBT victims involved.

Take for example the situation of being denied spousal employment healthcare benefits. If the employed person is a female, and she cannot provide her spouse with benefits because her spouse is a female, per employer and/or insurance policy – this is discrimination based on sex. The employer or insurance company is not outright saying that they are discriminating based on sexual orientation. However, the status seems to overlap. The act would provide much needed clarity in regard to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which is currently used to legally discriminate against LGBT people. After all, it would be beneficial to have more legal description of religious liberty and infringement on religious beliefs versus the potential effects of oppression through religious practices.

In addition, it would provide as an overlapping protection for women who face discrimination from being pregnant, breastfeeding in public, or differential treatment in business practices. Think about the cost difference between a salon charging $80 for a haircut versus $40 for a “men’s” cut. How about car repairs? Study after study has shown that women get quoted and charged more for their car troubles. In addition, the Equality Act would aim to remedy the most common verified condition – the wage gap between sexes.

In November, President Barack Obama and his administration spoke out in support of the Equality Act. White House press secretary Josh Earnest mentioned that this bill, if executed, would extend civil rights to many Americans. This was long-awaited by followers of the bill and came after media coverage of a failed Houston, Tx., non-discrimination act. The inconsistency between cities and states, greatly dependent on politics, is a common red flag for federal law to intervene.

For current attorneys and soon to be advocates, the Equality Act is one to watch closely. For more information and updates on the bill, go to….

Lisa Martinez Lisa Martinez is a 2L student at Arizona Summit Law School. She is the President of ASLS's OUTLaw, the national law school LGBTQ student organization. She is also the Lt. Governor of Programming for the ABA's student division of the 15th Circuit. She serves as a delegate for the 2L student body at her law school as well as vice president for the their Women's Law Association. Lisa has spearheaded a coalition with ASLS's OUTLaw and Equality Arizona's Project Jigsaw to push for non-discrimination policies under the umbrella of foster and adoption laws for LGBTQ Arizonans.