For the first time, the U.S. House of Representatives has passed sweeping new rights for LGBTQ people that would protect them from discrimination in public places, at work and in housing.
The Equality Act passed Friday afternoon with 236 Representatives voting for and 173 — all Republicans — voting against it. Florida Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart of Miami was one of seven Republicans to break ranks and vote for the bill.
Rep. Kathy Castor, a co-sponsor of the bill, said after the vote: "No one should be discriminated against – period – and especially based upon who they love.”
While civil rights laws protect people from discrimination based on race, religion, sex and disability, there is a gap in the law for LGBTQ people. The Equality Act aims to close that gap.
The bill also prevents anyone from denying access to a bathroom, locker room or dressing room that matches their gender identity. It’s a direct response to so-called “bathroom bills” that require people to use restrooms of their assigned gender at birth.
It’s the first time a chamber of Congress has voted on a such a measure. The Republican-controlled Senate, however, is unlikely to take up the bill and President Donald Trump said he is opposed.
In explaining his opposition Thursday, Rep. Ross Spano, R-Dover, quoted civil rights icon Coretta Scott King, the wife of Martin Luther King, Jr.
“Coretta Scott King wisely said, ‘Freedom is never really won. We earn it and win it in every new generation,’ Spano said Friday. “H.R. 5 is bad for freedom. It would immediately expose churches, religious schools and universities and faith-based organizations to legal liability for simply following their earnest beliefs.”
Those remarks drew widespread condemnation from LGBTQ activists and Democrats, who noted that King was a strong advocate for gay rights. Avery Jaffe, spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, called Spano a “disgrace” for his remarks.
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Florida is one of 30 states that does not include protections for LGBTQ individuals, meaning someone here could be fired by an employer due to their sexual orientation.
“The Equality Act would provide the LGBTQ community with the same protections afforded to every other American and it’s time this bill became law,” Equality Florida Senior Political Director Joe Saunders said in a statement.
Here’s how Florida’s 27 members of the House of Representatives voted on the bill: