House approves sweeping bill to expand gay rights


WASHINGTON (AP) — Democrats in the House approved sweeping anti-discrimination legislation today that would extend civil-rights protections to LGBT people by prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

The protections would extend to employment, housing, loan applications, education, public accommodations and other areas.

Called the Equality Act, the bill is a top priority of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who said it will bring the nation "closer to equal liberty and justice for all."

Sexual orientation and gender identity "deserve full civil rights protections - in the workplace and in every place, education, housing, credit, jury service, public accommodations," Pelosi said.

The vote was 236-173, with every Democrat voting in favor, along with eight Republicans. Cheers and applause broke out on the House floor as the bill crossed the threshold for passage.

The legislation's chief sponsor, Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., said it affirms fairness and equality as core American values "and ensures members of the LGBTQ community can live their lives free from the fear of legal discrimination of any kind."

Cicilline, who is gay, called equal treatment under the law a founding principle of the United States, adding "It's absurd that, in 2019, members of the LGBTQ community can be fired from their jobs, denied service in a restaurant or get thrown out of their apartment because of their sexual orientation or gender identify."

Most Republicans oppose the bill and call it another example of government overreach. Several GOP lawmakers spoke against it on the House floor. President Donald Trump is widely expected to veto the legislation if it reaches his desk.

At a news conference Thursday, the Republicans said the bill would jeopardize religious freedom by requiring acceptance of a particular ideology about sexuality and sexual identity.

Rep. Vicky Hartzler, R-Mo., called the legislation "grossly misnamed" and said it is "anything but equalizing."

The bill "hijacks" the 1964 Civil Rights Act to create "a brave new world of 'discrimination' based on undefined terms of sexual orientation and gender identity," Hartzler said. The legislation threatens women's sports, shelters and schools, and could silence female athletes, domestic-abuse survivors and other women, she said.

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