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Herring calls for passage of the federal Equality Act

mark herring
Mark Herring

Attorney General Mark R. Herring has joined a coalition of 25 attorneys general in calling on the U.S. Senate to pass legislation that protects individuals from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

Herring and his colleagues have sent a letter to Senate leadership urging the passage of H.R. 5, the Equality Act, which would strengthen federal legal protections for LGBTQ Americans by clarifying and modernizing federal civil rights law and would prohibit discrimination against LGBTQ individuals in employment, education, federally-funded programs, housing, pubic accommodations, credit and jury service.

The attorneys general argue that updates to the nation’s civil rights laws are long overdue.

“No Virginian and no American should fear being discriminated against in any aspect of their lives because of who they love,” Herring said. “Last year, Virginia passed historic LGBTQ protections and it is well past time that those same protections exist at the federal level. I will continue to join my colleagues in doing all we can to fight for and protect members of the LGBTQ community.”

In June 2020, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects employees who are fired for being gay or transgender. The court determined that employment discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity is discrimination on the basis of sex, which is prohibited by Title VII.

In their letter, Herring and his colleagues point out that despite the court’s decision, the absence of explicit federal prohibitions on discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity leave many LGBTQ Americans vulnerable to experiencing discrimination in education, housing, credit, and health care.

The coalition also points out that federal law does not currently prohibit sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination in other areas, such as federally-funded programs and the jury system. As a result, individuals who do experience such discrimination are left without legal recourse.

The Equality Act addresses these gaps by clarifying that existing protections under federal civil rights law include discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. The changes will create and expand protections for LGBTQ Americans facing discrimination in education, employment, housing, credit and public facilities.

The legislation will also prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex, including sexual orientation and gender identity, in sections of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that prohibit discrimination in public accommodations and federal funding. In addition, the legislation expands the definition of public accommodations to expressly prohibit sex discrimination, such as denying services to people because they are pregnant or breastfeeding, or denying transgender individuals access to sex-specific restrooms corresponding to their gender identities.

The legislation further clarifies that the U.S. attorney general may intervene in federal court actions alleging denial of equal protection of the laws based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

In the letter, Herring and his colleagues highlight their interest in protecting their residents from unlawful discrimination on the basis of sex, sexual orientation and gender identity. State attorneys general have authority to launch investigations, bring legal actions and enforce laws on behalf of their states, and the Equality Act would expand their civil rights enforcement toolkit.

For instance, the legislation adds sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of groups protected under the Equal Credit Opportunity Act and the Fair Housing Act – both of which state attorneys general routinely enforce.

Herring and his colleagues state that the Equality Act is needed to create a national standard, expanding civil rights protections beyond the existing patchwork of state laws. While a number of states have amended their laws to expand protections for LGBTQ residents, Herring and the coalition argue the Equality Act is needed to fill the gap in the 27 states where LGBTQ Americans currently have no state-level protection against discrimination.

Augusta Health Augusta Free Press Kris McMackin CPA
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Augusta Free Press