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State attorneys general call for passage of Equality Act

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Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul joined 25 other state attorneys general calling on the U.S. Senate to pass the Equality Act.

The act would strengthen federal legal protections for LGBTQ people by clarifying and modernizing federal civil rights law and would prohibit discrimination in employment, education, federally-funded programs, housing, public accommodations, credit and jury service. It passed the U.S. House in February. It has been stalled in the closely-divided Senate since then.

“No one should be denied employment, access to education, housing, credit or public accommodations because of who they are, and it is past time that federal civil rights law explicitly prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity,” Raoul said in a press release. “I am urging the Senate to pass the Equality Act because it provides needed clarity and consistency at the federal level that supports the enforcement work attorneys general do at the state level.” 

“LGBTQ Americans have made important contributions to America, even while they have been subjected to bigotry, discrimination and hate-fueled violence, simply for being who they are,” said U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-Illinois). “It’s critical to fill the gaps in federal civil rights laws and strengthen protections for this class of American citizens. “

Raoul and the other attorneys general issued a letter to Senate leadership urging the chamber to pass bill. In the letter, they pointed out their interest in protecting their residents from unlawful discrimination on the basis of sex, sexual orientation and gender identity. State attorneys general have authority to launch investigations, bring legal actions and enforce laws on behalf of their states, and the Equality Act would expand their civil rights enforcement toolkit. For instance, the legislation adds sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of groups protected under the Equal Credit Opportunity Act and the Fair Housing Act – both of which state attorneys general routinely enforce.

Joining Attorney General Raoul in submitting the letter are the attorneys general of California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin.

Last year, in a 6-3 decision, The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that LGBTQ workers are protected by civil rights laws. However, the coalition of attorneys general said the ruling sill left gaps in protection. With no explicit federal protection, many queer people are vulnerable to discrimination in education, housing, credit and health care.

Also, 27 states, more than half, have no LGBTQ protections at all. Residents in Illinois, Iowa and Wisconsin do have at least some protections, depending on the state. But Indiana, Kentucky and Missouri not.

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