07.23.15

Statement of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Ranking Member, Senate Judiciary Committee, On the Introduction of the Equality Act

Last month, the Supreme Court took a significant step towards a more perfect union when it ruled that every American has the right to marry the person they love and have that lawful marriage recognized.  It was a victory for love and justice over bigotry and intolerance.  This historic milestone should be celebrated, but we must remember that the journey is not complete.  The Fourteenth Amendment’s principles of liberty and equality safeguard all couples’ right to marry, and also serves as a bulwark against discriminatory treatment in the other aspects of everyday life, including where we live, where we work, and our interactions with the government.

While LGBT Americans are now able to marry the person they love, they continue to experience discrimination in many other aspects of their lives.  Achieving full equality means that LGBT individuals should be able to provide security for their families without fear that they will be fired from their jobs or denied housing.  It means that a restaurant cannot refuse to serve an LGBT couple because the owner disapproves of that couple’s relationship.

These are not abstract concepts.  In our country today, LGBT Americans continue to experience discrimination, and it must end.  In a June 27 article in the New York Times, entitled “Next Fight for Gay Rights: Bias in Jobs and Housing,” the author Erik Eckholm provides clear documentation of such discrimination.  A landlord in East Nashville, Tennessee, refused to rent his apartment to two women in a loving relationship after he learned of their partnership because it made him “uncomfortable.”  He refused their rental application even after they offered to raise the rent by $150.  A transgender individual was fired from her job as an industrial electrician because, according to her boss, her identity was becoming “too much of a distraction,” in spite of the fact that she was doing “great work.”  

If such discrimination were based on race, religion, sex, or national origin, these individuals would be protected under Federal law.  But because Federal civil rights law, as well as many state and local laws, do not provide explicit protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity, these individuals continue to experience discrimination without any legal protection.  Their stories show us that LGBT Americans continue to be treated as second class citizens in their daily lives.

That is why I am an original cosponsor of the Equality Act.  The bill would amend existing Federal law to provide explicit civil rights protections for LGBT individuals.  This non-discrimination bill would ensure that sexual orientation and gender identity are protected under Federal law in the same way that race, sex, religion, national origin, and disability are also protected classes.  The result would be to protect LGBT individuals against discrimination in public accommodations, Federally-funded programs, employment, housing, education, credit, and other aspects of daily life.  This is the kind of equality and security that all American families should enjoy.

I am proud that Vermont was one of the first states to pass a comprehensive law prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in 1992, and also passed a law explicitly prohibiting discrimination on the basis of gender identity in 2007.  All Vermonters are protected from discrimination in employment, places of public accommodation, housing, credit, and other services.  This is what we need on the Federal level as well.

I ask unanimous consent that the New York Times article referenced above be included in the Record at the conclusion of my remarks.

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