June 18, 2020

Wyden Urges Congress to Pass the Equality Act, Protect LGBTQ+ Americans Against Discrimination

As Prepared for Delivery

Mr. President, I want to thank my colleagues for bringing us together on the Senate floor in a call to action for LGBTQ+ rights. I am proud to stand with all of them today to fight for the passage of the Equality Act – it is long, long, long overdue.

We’ve come together in the middle of Pride Month, and in 2020 with a pandemic continuing to spread, Pride Month looks a little different than it has in the past. No parades, smaller celebrations. But this has still been an historic month when it comes to LGBTQ+ rights, perhaps more so than any other since marriage equality became the law of the land in June 2015.

A few days ago the Supreme Court ruled that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects LGBTQ+ Americans against discrimination in the workplace. “An employer who fires an individual merely for being gay or transgender defies the law,” the majority opinion concluded.

It was a surprise ruling. Without any shred of doubt, it was the correct ruling. It recognized that the law offers equal legal protection for LGBTQ+ Americans – a fact that should never have been in doubt. It’s vital to be on guard that this administration’s judges will use the approach underpinning this ruling as cover to strip equal protection from other people in future rulings. When the wrong approach results in the correct ruling, we must remain vigilant in fighting for the correct results again, and again, and again.

It came just a few days after the Trump administration tried to take us in the other direction, announcing that it was green-lighting health care discrimination against transgender Americans. An ugly, shameful action to take – and particularly cruel that the administration waited until Pride Month to announce it.

It was a reminder to a lot of people that the fight for LGBTQ+ rights didn’t end with the victory on marriage equality. For every landmark ruling that moves the cause forward, there’s somebody like Donald Trump who wants to drag the nation back to the days when discrimination was the norm.

Until Monday’s ruling, employers in more than half the states were allowed to fire employees for their sexual orientation or gender identity. More than half the states. But that injustice is now a thing of the past.

The American people can’t count on this week’s Supreme Court ruling against workplace discrimination to bring on the end of discrimination in other parts of life in America. The Senate can’t wait for any other court cases to move forward before we take action on this floor. That’s why my colleagues and I are here today – to call for the immediate passage of the Equality Act.

If discrimination against LGBTQ+ Americans is illegal in the workplace, then it is illegal in housing, it is illegal in education, it is illegal in public services and spaces, and more. That’s what the Equality Act is about. It’s about recognizing the dignity and the humanity of LGBTQ+ Americans – and enshrining it in law. It’s the next step that will move the cause forward.

This is bipartisan legislation that reflects the will of an overwhelming majority of the American people. The Senate ought to come together and pass it today.

Justice Kennedy opened the majority opinion in Obergefell v. Hodges by writing that, “The Constitution promises liberty to all within its reach.” There’s much to be done delivering on that promise. That’s why my colleagues and I are fighting for the passage of the Equality Act, and I know we’re going to keep up the fight in the weeks and months ahead.