Introduced in the wake of the Supreme Court mandating legal recognition of same-sex couples, the federal Equality Act is intended to expand pretty much all national anti-discrimination laws to add sexual orientation and gender identity. This would include employment, public accommodations, housing, jury service, lending and federal contracting.
The act was introduced by Democratic legislators and has been endorsed by President Barack Obama and the three remaining Democratic candidates. But it did not have any formal Republican support, and therefore no possibility of being anything more than a campaign issue, until today.
Republican Illinois Rep. Bob Dold has announced that he will be supporting the Equality Act. He gave a brief statement to The Hill, but did not have a formal announcement up yet on his own site. The Hill also notes that he is facing a tough re-election bid. He and Democrat Bruce Schneider keep trading control over the seat:
"Illinois has a long and proud history of fighting for equal rights, and I am proud to continue this tradition by supporting the Equality Act. Engraved on the front of the Supreme Court is the phrase 'equal justice under the law,' but as long as any Americans can be legally discriminated against, there is not equal justice in this country," Dold said.
"Congress must act to ensure that all Americans, including the LGBT community, are protected equally from discrimination under federal law, just as they already are in my home state of Illinois."
Dold added that while the bill is "not perfect in its current form, it marks an important first step in the process of crafting a bipartisan bill that ensures equal rights for all Americans while also fully protecting the religious freedoms our Constitution guarantees."
Dold's caveats that it's "not perfect" are interesting, but it's not clear yet what he's referring to by protecting religious freedoms. The Washington Blade was trying to get more information from his office. Most of the legislation (pdf) is about adding sexual orientation and gender identity to existing federal code, so existing religious-based exemptions to discrimination law would still be valid.
But wait: There is one potentially important change. In one short paragraph, the law declares that the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act cannot be used as a defense against complying with these laws. And there's also the matter that it greatly expands the definition of what counts as a "public accommodation" under federal law. Current federal law is much more restrictive than many state's public accommodation laws. Even if sexual orientation were added to current federal public accommodation rules, they don't cover services like florists and photographers, some of whom have been subject to state sanctions for declining to provide services for gay weddings.
I have previously (repeatedly) expressed my concerns with the law lumping together private choices and government discrimination together and treating it like it's all the same thing, and requiring of a federal solution. Read more here.