Massachusetts AG Healey Joins Coalition of AGs Urge Senate to Pass the Equality Act
BOSTON—Attorney General Maura Healey recently joined a coalition of 25 attorneys general in calling on the U.S. Senate to pass federal legislation that protects all individuals from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
In a letter sent to Senate leadership, the attorneys general call for the passage of H.R. 5, the Equality Act. The legislation would strengthen federal legal protections for LGBTQ+ individuals by clarifying and modernizing federal civil rights laws and would prohibit discrimination against LGBTQ+ individuals in employment, education, federally-funded programs, housing, public accommodations, credit, and jury service. The attorneys general argue that updates to the nation’s civil rights laws are long overdue. The Equality Act reached the Senate in February of this year.
“Our work to defend and advance LGBTQ+ equality has never been more important as we unwind the harm done under the previous Administration and recover from a public health crisis that has exacerbated persistent discrimination,” AG Healey said. “We’re calling on the Senate to pass this critical legislation so that we can ensure our LGBTQ+ friends, neighbors, colleagues, and family members have the protections they need to thrive.”
In June 2020, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects employees who are fired because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. 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 earlier this month, the coalition points out that despite the court’s decision, the absence of explicit federal prohibitions on discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity leaves many LGBTQ+ individuals vulnerable to experiencing discrimination in education, housing, credit, and health care. The coalition also contends 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 laws include discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. The legislation will create and expand protections for LGBTQ+ individuals facing discrimination in education, employment, housing, credit and public facilities. It 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. Additionally, it 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. It 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.
The Equality Act would also expand State attorneys’ general authority to launch investigations, bring legal actions, and enforce laws on behalf of their states. 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.
The letter also argues that the Equality Act is needed to create a national standard, expanding civil rights protections beyond what is currently in state laws. The coalition specifically argues that the legislation is needed to fill the gap in the 27 states where LGBTQ+ individuals currently have no state-level protection against discrimination.
Joining AG Healey in sending in sending today’s letter are the attorneys general of California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin.