Houses passes Equality Act to increase protections for sexual orientation and gender identity

The House passed legislation that would protect those living in states where it's legal to discriminate based on sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, housing and other services as well as access to public accommodations such as restaurants.

The House passed legislation Friday that would protect those living in states where it's legal to discriminate based on sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, housing and other services as well as access to public accommodations such as restaurants.

The bill, known as the "Equality Act," would amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and other civil rights laws to include sexual orientation and gender identity as protected characteristics. But critics argue it raises serious concerns for religious communities as well as women's sports.

It passed largely along party lines in the Democratic-controlled House, 236-173, but it's not expected to be taken up in the GOP-led Senate. Eight Republicans supported the bill.

Conservatives argue the bill threatens freedom of speech, religion and women's rights. In a heated floor debate before the vote, Republicans pointed to a provision in the bill that says an individual could not be denied access to a restroom, locker room or dressing room based on their gender identity. Opponents say that would force women and girls to share private spaces with men. Critics also say the bill could facilitate men participating in women's sports if they identify as female.

"Requiring biological females (to) face competition from biological males will mean the end of women's sports in any meaningful sense," said Rep. Greg Steube, a Florida Republican.

And while supporters say the bill does not affect houses of worship because of religious protections, critics note that the bill could still apply to religiously affiliated institutions, schools, and hospitals that receive federal money.

"What if a Catholic church who accepts school lunch programs, what if a Jewish synagogue who accepts money from Homeland Security ... do they then have to violate their own faith beliefs? Making one group of people deny their faith while trying to give another one a leg up is still wrong. It's not equal," said Rep. Doug Collins, the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee.

Democrats, meanwhile, defended the bill, saying it would be a historic marker for LGBTQ rights, since people could still be legally fired, evicted or denied services in in more than two dozen states based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.

"This is not about a red herring about men wanting to play in women's sports. Please, this is about people like my husband Phil and I," said Rep. Mark Pocan, a Wisconsin Democrat, as he held up a photo of his husband.

"If we pass the Equality Act, people like Phil and I can be free to love who we want to love and live where we want to live and we can work where we want to work, without being fired or evicted simply because of who we are and who we love," he added.

Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney of New York -- a Democrat who in 2014 became the second member of Congress to legally wed his same-sex partner while in office -- made an appeal to Republican colleagues who might be personally in favor of the bill but fear political backlash if they support it.

"My colleagues, I know you. I know you are good and decent people," he said on the floor. "Let conscience guide us to the right and please support this bill."

A White House official earlier this week said that while the Trump administration opposes all discrimination, it will not support the House-sponsored "Equality Act," saying it's "filled with poison pills that threaten to undermine parental and conscience rights."

The passage of the bill comes one day after President Donald Trump offered support to Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who's seeking the Democratic presidential nomination and who would be the first married gay US president if elected.

In an interview with Fox News, the President was asked to put aside policy disagreements and weigh in on Buttigieg's status as a married gay man.

"Don't you think it's just great to see the fact that you've got a guy there on the stage with his husband and it's normal?" Fox's Steve Hilton asked.

"I think it's absolutely fine, I do," Trump said.

He agreed with Hilton's assessment that Buttigieg's candidacy is a "sign of great progress," adding, "Yeah, I think it's great. I think that's something that perhaps some people will have a problem with, I have no problem with it whatsoever."

CNN's Betsy Klein and Maegan Vazquez contributed to this report.

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