Even though most Republicans have spoken out against the Equality Act, three GOP representatives voted to pass the bill in the House on Thursday.
The bill, which would essentially remove biological gender as a distinct legal category and gut the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, passed the House in a 224-206 vote, with every Democrat supporting the measure.
Three Republicans joined them: Reps. John Katko, R-N.Y., Tom Reed, R-N.Y., and Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Pa.
Reed argued the Equality Act is not the threat to religious liberty that many Americans fear it is.
“We have been assured by the author of the bill that the fundamental rights of the American people, such as religious freedoms, have been protected in the legislation as written. We will continue to support these efforts to ensure unlawful persecution or discrimination is prevented,” Reed said in a statement.
Katko agreed and said he voted for the bill because the U.S. needs a “uniform federal standard” when it comes to civil protections.
“Today, I once again supported passage of the Equality Act, a bill that creates a uniform federal standard for preventing discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. In New York, this bill is already established law,” he said in a statement. “But in states across the country, differing standards have made it difficult for employers to conform to conflicting laws. The Equality Act has received strong support from the business and manufacturing community. This bill will ensure equal opportunity in the workplace.”
Several more Republicans voted for a similar version of the Equality Act in 2019.
But this version is much more “radical,” according to Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., who voted for the 2019 bill. This version does not just expand housing and employment protections; it opens up religious Americans to legal attacks of all kinds.
“House Democratic Leadership had ample time to make these changes, but sadly, they ignored multiple good faith efforts by my colleagues and instead doubled down on some of the most troubling issues, including sabotaging religious freedom,” Diaz-Balart said, explaining why he voted against the Equality Act this time. “Despite its name and promise to eliminate discrimination, what the bill actually does is discriminate against mosques, churches, and religious organizations for their deeply held religious beliefs.”
Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Ariz., said the Equality Act would also threaten women’s rights, since it would allow men who identify as female to enter female restrooms, shelters, prisons, and locker rooms without their consent. The bill would also force gender-exclusive groups, such as women’s sports teams, to accept men, which would put women at a significant disadvantage.
“The Equality Act endangers the safety and well-being of our families. Restaurants, gyms, and schools will be required to allow men to enter women’s restrooms, and women will be incapable of reaching their highest potential in sports if they are forced to compete against men,” Biggs explained. “[The Equality Act] is the most recent example of Democrats’ efforts to control every aspect of American lives. Centralizing power in the federal government will allow Democrats to incriminate those who oppose their radical agenda.”
The bill now moves to the Senate, where Democrats will be hard-pressed to win over the 10 Republican votes it would need to beat back a GOP filibuster. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, who co-sponsored the 2019 version of the Equality Act, has already said she will not sponsor it this time because of unresolved problems with the legislation.
“The Equality Act was a starting point for negotiations, and Senator Collins agreed to introduce it with the agreement that all of the cosponsors would work together to make further changes. Unfortunately, they were unwilling to work out those changes,” Collins’s spokesperson, Annie Clark, said in a statement.
If the bill passes the Senate, Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, said he and several other conservatives will fight the Equality Act in court.
“We are going to keep fighting it in the courts and beyond,” Roy said.
“This is a government using its power to tell us to bow down to the will of a cultural elite in this town who want to tell us what we’re supposed to believe. We’re not going to do that.”
— Rep. Chip Roy Press Office (@RepChipRoy) February 25, 2021
Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, echoed what many Republicans have said over the past week when he called for a bill that includes protections for both the LGBT community and religious groups.
“It isn’t an either-or,” he said. “We believe it can be both.”
Both Stewart and Diaz-Balart have floated introducing their own legislation if the Equality Act fails in the Senate. Collins has also reportedly suggested introducing her own version of the bill.