WASHINGTON — Pride Month wrapped with a push for the passage of a LGBTQ+ civil rights bill in limbo in the split senate.
It’s a familiar story: a groundswell of support builds for federal action to address a problem, lawmakers front a bill promising to do just that, and then it fails to make it to the president’s desk.
That’s the story of the Equality Act — legislation to prohibit discrimination in areas like employment and housing based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Versions have been introduced in Congress since the 1970s. Two years ago, it passed the House for the first time, then died in the Senate. The House passed it again in February and it is languishing again. No Senate Republicans are backing the bill.
“It’s important for people across the country to have the Equality Act in place, so that they too can have the same rights as everyone else,” Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Madison.
For Rep. Mark Pocan, these protections go beyond politics. It hits close to home. He’s the second openly gay Wisconsin lawmaker voted in the House — succeeding Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisconsin who was the first out lawmaker ever elected to Congress.
“Pocan has been is kind of taken up the mantle that Baldwin had kind of started in the House,” said Dave Canon, a political science professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “And he’s been really active in the Equality Caucus in the House and played a key role in helping get that passed through the House.”
After years of pushing for its passage, Sen. Baldwin is seemingly frustrated by the red wall this legislation is facing in the Senate.
“It is just wrong that in a majority of states, LGBTQ Americans live without fully-inclusive non-discrimination laws and can still face discrimination simply because of who they are or who they love. It is time to end this kind of discrimination and the House took a historic step forward by passing Equality Act in February with bipartisan support. Now, the Senate should do the same and I will continue working to convince my Republican colleagues that it’s time to move our country forward by passing the Equality Act and providing the freedom of full equality for every LGBTQ American across our country,” Sen. Baldwin wrote in a statement to Spectrum News.
A Republican congressman from Wisconsin shared a similar sentiment nearly two decades ago when defending a LGBTQ-inclusive education bill. Rep. Steve Gunderson, R-La Crosse, in return, was outed by one of his GOP colleagues on the House floor during a debate on the bill.
“I guess, quoting my wife again, [Gunderson] has a revolving door on his closet,” said Rep. Bob Dornan, R-California. “He’s in, he’s out, he’s in. I guess you’re out because he spoke to a huge homosexual dinner last week, Mr. Gunderson.”
There were no openly gay Republicans in Congress at that time.
“Definitely, that was a tough path,” said Prof. Canon. “Back in those years, in the Republican Party, it just was pretty unusual. And there was still plenty of open hostility to equal rights for gay people back at that time. And so Gundersen also was a bit of a trailblazer there.”
Gunderson penned an open letter in the Wall Street Journal to Republicans two months ago encouraging them to support the Equality Act. Republicans voting against the bill argue it could strip religious freedoms.