THE EQUALITY FOR ALL RESOLUTION (EFA), a bill specifically written to “prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity” on a federal level was introduced in Congress the week of April 13. Within the bill’s purview are legislative protections from biases regarding “credit, employment, education, federally funded programs, housing, jury service, and public accommodations.”
The press release also notes that while many states, including Colorado, have instituted direct legal prohibitions on the discrimination of LGBT Americans in areas such as employment, housing, and public accommodation, a staggering number of states don’t have formal, explicit ordinances banning LGBT discrimination on the books.
I interviewed Rep. Jared Polis, one of the co- authors of EFA, along with House Democratic Policy and Communications Committee Chair Steve Israel (D-NY), Congressman André Carson (D-IN), Congressman David Cicilline (D-RI), and Congressman Mark Takano (D-CA) this past Thursday. Referring to recent grumblings in my own microcommunity of artists, scholars, and writers, I wanted to know why so many people have come to consider EFA as just a rebuttal to recent “religious freedom” laws passed in Indiana and Arkansas.
“Certainly some of the actions in states like Indiana and Arkansas, and the moral outrage that many Americans showed at those [actions], led us to author a resolution that sends a clear message: Discrimination is wrong, and discrimination against LGBT Americans is wrong in every single area, whether it’s public accommodations, or housing, or employment,” Rep. Polis asserts.
While the timing of the EFA closely follows recent laws passed in Indiana and Arkansas, the bill is anything but a reactionary document. These laws might have catalyzed the introduction of the EFA, but the concepts and sentiments buttressing it have been circulating in and out of Congress for some time now. Rep. Polis notes: “The LGBT community has faced a lot of … political attacks in states like Indiana and Arkansas, and even nationally… and what we wanted to show the LGBT community and our allies is that there are many of us in Congress who believe in equality and who will continue to fight and won’t rest until we achieve equality for LGBT Americans. It’s about showing solidarity with the majority of Americans who are outraged at these discriminatory laws,” he relates.
As Rep. Polis’ April 20 op-ed in The Advocate insists, much of the political power of social policy movements today is propelled by “millennials who are willing to question the norms they or their parents were brought up with in favor of fairness and reason.” As a millennial myself, I couldn’t agree more.
Indeed, millennials might not be the only ones trading in stuffy conventions (read: homophobia) for reason. If the numbers are anything to go by, the EFA has been hugely successful since its introduction in Congress weeks ago. Rep. Polis tells me: “It’s been amazing that we have over 128 co-sponsors in two weeks, which is a lot for a bill. There’s been an enormous amount of interest since we introduced it.” In a Congress with 435 representatives and 100 senators, 128 co-sponsors represent nearly a full quarter of the United States legislative branch.
This bill represents a significant shift in tone from DOMA’s repeal in the summer of 2013. Whilst many people rightly celebrated the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down a federally imposed definition of marriage, many were left disgruntled, wondering how each state would independently define marriage, and as a result, how a family could be legally recognized in one state and deemed illegitimate in another. The EFA’s importance is further underscored here. As Rep. Polis adamantly states: “It often takes our federal government to ensure that all Americans, regardless of their race or gender — and now what we propose as part of their sexual orientation and gender identity — don’t face discrimination and can live up to their potential and live life with their families [without worrying] about being discriminated against.”
The EFA is only one in a slew of recent laws and regulations that have continued to spur the ongoing debate pitting notions of state sovereignty and federal oversight as antitheses. But the EFA is perhaps the first piece of LGBT- related legislation proposed since DOMA’s repeal that stands a chance to unify both LGBT Americans who are happy to exist without a federal definition of marriage and LGBT Americans whose freedom and comfort are compromised precisely because there has been a historical reluctance in this country to assert federal control on matters deemed to be related to “sexuality.”
Of course, the EFA isn’t really about sexuality at all, but about equal claims to citizenship and, ultimately, a sense of belonging. Rep. Polis’ invocation of the term “solidarity” is ever poignant; he insists that “just like all discrimination is a national issue, so is discrimination against LGBT Americans.” It is important to conceive of the EFA as an intervention committed not just to LGBT rights, but human rights more broadly. The improvement of LGBT lives in America stands to benefit Americans regardless of sexual orientation, as it sets a veritably positive example for each and every one of us, whereby the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness should never be conditional.
To this end, the EFA is but one part of a larger project involving Reps. Polis and Cicilline, one that is committed to implementing an array of non-discriminatory legislation across the United States, and concretizing liberal sentiments by translating them “into legislative language.” With these signposts firmly planted and leading the way to a more complete equality for LGBT Americans, there may be much to hope for yet.