Chairman Nadler Opening Statement for Historic Hearing on H.R. 5, the Equality Act
Washington, D.C. –Today, House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) delivered the following opening remarks for the first ever hearing on H.R. 5, the Equality Act, which explicitly prohibits discrimination against the LGBTQ community:
"Nearly 50 years after the Stonewall Uprising, there is still no federal law that explicitly prohibits millions of lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender Americans from being denied medical care, fired from their jobs, or thrown out of their homes simply because of who they are. It is time Congress changes that.
"Today, the Judiciary Committee considers H.R. 5, the "Equality Act." This is long-overdue legislation that will explicitly prohibit discrimination against LGBT and gender non-conforming Americans and will strengthen non-discrimination protections for women and others. Today’s hearing also affords us the opportunity to hear about the enduring nature and extent of continuing discrimination faced by LGBT people in various aspects of American life.
"In 2015, as part of its decision in Obergefell vs Hodges, which recognized the fundamental right of same-sex couples to marry, the Supreme Court held, "The Constitution promises liberty to all within its reach, a liberty that includes certain specific rights that allow persons, within a lawful realm, to define and express their identity." The Equality Act will help protect and defend that liberty for LGBT individuals, women, and others. At this moment we have an opportunity to continue our march towards justice—to enshrine in our nation’s laws protections for marginalized communities to ensure that they can fully participate in key areas of life, and to provide them recourse in the face of discrimination.
"The Act will do so by amending our existing statutes—namely the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Fair Housing Act, the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, the Jury Selection and Services Act, and several laws regarding employment with the federal government—by either adding sex, including sexual orientation and gender identity, as a protected characteristic or, where sex is already included as a protected characteristic, by explicitly clarifying that sex discrimination includes discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. It will also expand the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to clarify the definition of public accommodations and ensure that a broader range of establishments, including retail stores and services such as banking, are included for all classes.
"All forms of discrimination are tied together, and we must address them together. If a black lesbian couple is denied housing they are otherwise qualified for, it is nearly impossible to tell if they were turned away because of their race, their gender, or their sexual orientation. It is time we make clear that none of these are acceptable forms of discrimination.
"We have already seen the effectiveness of nondiscrimination provisions on the federal level, and we have seen how sexual orientation and gender identity protections work in the more than twenty states that have them on the books. There is no reason discrimination that is explicitly illegal in one part of the country should not be explicitly illegal in another. The Equality Act builds on these existing protections and provides clear recourse for millions of people no matter where they live.
"The Equality Act takes special care to maintain the careful balance long established between individual liberties and our compelling interest in promoting nondiscrimination. Freedom of religion is a fundamental American value, and we do not have to choose between non-discrimination and religious liberty—we have, in our existing civil rights laws, a roadmap on how to advance both. Religion is no excuse for discrimination, as we have long recognized when it comes to race, color, religion, sex, and national origin—and it should not be when it comes to sexual orientation or gender identity.
"Many of the arguments against the Equality Act are belied by the experience of the states and localities that have protections already. The scare-mongering about potential “bathroom predators” has not turned out to be true. Protecting the ability for a transgender person to use a facility consistent with their gender identity has not weakened public safety or criminal laws, or undermined their enforcement.
"Similarly, protections for sexual orientation and gender identity will not force religious hospitals or nonprofits to close. New York has these protections—we have Catholic, Jewish, and Protestant hospitals and adoption agencies—and everyone, regardless of who they are or whom they love, is able to receive medically appropriate care, and to be served by publicly funded organizations.
"Many states have sexual orientation and gender identity nondiscrimination laws, and all of them still have women’s sports. Arguments about transgender athletes participating in sports in accordance with their gender identity having competitive advantages have not been borne out. Sports have positive impacts on physical, social, and emotional well-being, and we should not be denying transgender athletes those opportunities simply because sometimes they may win. Nor should their occasional success be used as a roadblock to advancing civil rights legislation for LGBT people as a whole.
"While we are examining the specific provisions of this legislation, the true question before us is much broader and goes to the heart of the country we want to be. Much of the history of the United States has been expanding the definition of who is understood to be included when the Declaration of Independence says, "all men are created equal." When these words were first written, that phrase did not include black and Latino men; it did not include Native Americans; it did not include women; and it did not include LGBT individuals.
"But, we have, as a nation, aspired to expand the definition and ensure that, regardless of race, creed, ethnicity, or sex, everyone is able to participate fully in the American way of life. Each advance has been hard fought, whether in Congress, in the courts or through regulations, and it has happened over the objections of people who argued that we were taking away their freedom to discriminate. But as a nation, we have long held that we cannot sit by and be tolerant of intolerance that is designed to demean and to exclude communities. That is why I am a proud cosponsor of the Equality Act.
"Before I end, I want to take a moment to directly address many of those watching today’s hearing, who are undoubtedly about to hear their humanity and their right to exist questioned. To the transgender and gender non-conforming youth, teens, and adults who are about to have their right to participate in sports and be themselves in school, work and in their daily lives challenged; to the same-sex couples who are about to hear suggestions that they just take their business elsewhere, that they adopt children elsewhere, that they exist—elsewhere:
"We see you. We support you. And we believe in you. If you are feeling unsafe, afraid, or at risk, please reach out for help. You are worth fighting for, and we are here to fight alongside you, which is why we will be passing this bill.
"I want to thank the Gentleman from Rhode Island, Mr. Cicilline, for introducing this important legislation, and I look forward to hearing from all of our witnesses."