US Senate considers codifying LGBTQ civil rights

WASHINGTON (WCAX) – The U.S. Senate is considering bill to codify federal civil rights protection for LGBTQ Americans. The Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on Wednesday on the bills passed by parliament late last month. Proponents of the bill say it will take a long time, but opponents say it is going too far.

Equal justice according to the law. Those are the words engraved on the steps of the US Supreme Court, but not the reality many Americans live today.

“In 29 states, LGBTQ Americans can be married this morning, evicted from a restaurant at lunch, denied a mortgage, removed from the jury that afternoon, and evicted from their home that same evening,” said Senator Jeff Merkley of D-Oregon.

The Equal Opportunities Act extends anti-discrimination protection to LGBTQ Americans in areas such as employment, education, access to credit, jury service, federal funding, housing, and public housing. These protections exist in some states – including Vermont – but not everywhere. “How can we, as Jefferson wrote, say that we are all created and deserve the same rights if the law does not give LGBTQ Americans the same rights and opportunities?” Said Merkley.

Wednesday’s Senate hearing began with a short video highlighting the progress that has been made for LGBTQ Americans. Legislators, attorneys, parents spoke out in favor of the bill, which was passed with support from both sides of the aisle. Stella Keating, a high school student and transactivist, spoke about how current law has affected her college search. “Less than half of the states in our country offer me the same protection under the law. What if I want to study in a state that doesn’t protect me? Right now, in many states, I could be denied medical care or be evicted for simply being transgender. How is that even correct? How is that American anyway? “Said Keating.

The main arguments against the bill relate to freedom of religion and transgender athletes competing in women’s sports.

“Biological sex is important in law, medicine, and for many of us in the practice of our beliefs. The equality law goes where there was no legislation, ”said Mary Rice Hassan of the Ethics and Public Policy Center. “By enshrining gender identity as a protected category, this bill would make it impossible to ever legally differentiate between a woman and a biological man who claims a female identity.”

Lawyers who speak out against the law say it privileges gender identity over biological sex and harms women in the process. They cited several cases where high school athletes competed and lost against students who were born male and have since switched. Opponents also argue that mixing inmate populations could put people at risk of sexual assault.

However, proponents of the law pointed to the many states where protection for LGBTQ people is already on the books. “I think it is important when we talk about politics to make sure that our politics are driven by fact, not fear. Because we have heard the fears and know that these fears will not occur in these states, ”said Alphonso David.

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