DES MOINES, Iowa – The U.S. House of Representatives voted 224 to 206 to pass the controversial Equality Act, a sweeping LGBT rights bill, on Thursday afternoon. Iowa’s U.S. House delegation voted along party lines. U.S. Rep. Cindy Axne, D-IA 03, was the only member from Iowa to vote for the bill. U.S. Reps. Randy Feenstra, R-IA 04, Ashley Hinson, R-IA 01, and Mariannette Miller-Meeks, R-IA 02, voted against the bill.
The Equality Act, first introduced in 2015, would amend virtually all current federal laws covering employment, housing, credit, education, public spaces and services, federally funded programs, and jury service to include sexual orientation and gender identity among the prohibited categories of discrimination or segregation in places of public accommodation.
The Equality Act also expands the scope of what the Civil Rights Act of 1964 considers “public accommodation” to include almost any business that serves the public.
Iowa included sexual orientation and gender identity in the state’s Civil Rights Act in 2007.
The Equality Act also does not include any religious liberty exemptions. The only exemptions that exist that are currently present in federal law apply to churches and religious schools. One very controversial aspect of the bill is that it renders the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a balancing test enacted in 1993 that exists for judicial review where the federal government substantially burdens someone’s religious liberty, useless as it applies to cases that would fall under the Equality Act.
Specifically, the legislation in section 9 states, “The Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (42 U.S.C. 2000bb et seq.) shall not provide a claim concerning, or a defense to a claim under, a covered title, or provide a basis for challenging the application or enforcement of a covered title.”
Axne in a released statement emphasized that she hoped this legislation is a start to end discrimination against LGBT persons.
“It is well past time to ensure LGBTQ Americans have full civil rights protection under the law, and this bill will help move our nation closer to fulfilling the promise of equality, opportunity, and justice for all,” she said. “Our LGBTQ friends, family members and co-workers still face unequal treatment, and I will continue to fight in Washington to make sure that we end discrimination against our LGBTQ community.”
The Iowa Torch asked Axne’s office to specifically address the removal of RFRA protections in the legislation. Axne spokesperson Ian Mariani replied in an email, “I will direct you to the Congresswoman’s quote in this release where she expresses her desire to ‘end discrimination against our LGBTQ community.'”
Hinson expressed concern about the lack of protection for religious freedom before the vote.
“There is absolutely no place in our society for bigotry or hate, and no one should face discrimination of any kind. There are already existing legal protections for those who have experienced discrimination under federal law. The Equality Act undermines the First Amendment and threatens religious liberty, and I will oppose it,” she said in a released statement.
The Iowa Torch also reached out to Feenstra’s and Miller-Meeks’ office for comment but did not receive a replay prior to publication.