Louisiana's delegation split along party lines when the Democrat-controlled U.S. House voted Friday in favor of a sweeping ban on discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond, a New Orleans Democrat who is one of 240 cosponsors of the Equality Act, was the only member from Louisiana to vote in favor of it. It passed the House 236-173, with eight Republicans joining the Democratic majority in voting in favor. No Democrats voted against the bill.
Republican Reps. Ralph Abraham, Garret Graves, Clay Higgins and Steve Scalise, the chamber's minority whip, all voted against the bill. Rep. Mike Johnson, R-Shreveport, did not vote.
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Democrats lauded the passage of one of their priority pieces of legislation with many speeches in support on the House floor, but the Equality Act is unlikely to make it through the GOP-controlled U.S. Senate so Friday's action was largely symbolic.
"This is not just an act of Congress that we are taking for the LGBTQ community, this is progress for America," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat from California.
Democrats have spent years pushing the proposal, which would extend existing federal anti-discrimination laws to groups currently unprotected including people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender, but Friday marked the first time it received a full vote in either chamber of Congress.
“It’s about time. I’m glad we finally ended legal discrimination against those in the LGBTQ community, and I hope the Senate follows suit," Richmond, a former chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, said after the vote.
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Most states, including Louisiana, do not have laws that prohibit discrimination in the workplace, housing or public accommodations based on someone's sexual orientation or gender identity. Without such protections, advocates say marginalized groups are more vulnerable to being fired from their jobs, evicted from their homes and discriminated against in public establishments.
“Today's historic vote is a major milestone for equality and sends a powerful and profound message to LGBTQ people, especially LGBTQ youth, that the U.S. House has their backs,” Human Rights Campaign president Chad Griffin said in a statement after the House vote. “No one’s rights should depend on which side of a state or city line they live on, and today we took a giant step forward in our journey toward full equality."
But Republican House members argued the Equality Act went too far in carving out protections for the LGBT community, with several taking specific issue with provisions that would apply to people who are transgender.
"There's no one who disagrees with this bill that says someone ought to be treated wrongly, badly," Rep. Doug Collins, R-Georgia. "The legislative part has been rushed ... Let's at least have an open debate."
Scalise, the No. 2 ranking Republican in the chamber from Jefferson Parish, said he believed that there was room for a more bipartisan approach that would gain support from additional GOP members.
"It became a partisan bill that won't get signed into law," he said.
In its current form, Scalise said worried that if enacted the legislation would take rights away from parents and doctors of transgender children and violate their private family and health decisions.
Abraham, an Alto Republican who is currently running for governor against incumbent Democrat John Bel Edwards, said he felt it encroached on religious rights.
"Despite its name, the so-called Equality Act places in jeopardy the rights of religious organizations and infringes upon their deeply held beliefs," Abraham said. "There is nothing equal about assaulting the rights of people of faith, and I voted against it."