Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”
If this well-known adage is to be believed — and I do — it’s largely due to the tireless and ongoing work to advance equality and human rights for all.
Through centuries of American history, the struggle and advocacy of many have led to legislative achievements that tackle systemic oppression piece by piece. But we must always strive to do better and never rest on our laurels.
Last week, the House of Representatives did just that by passing the Equality Act, which strengthens the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by extending its protections nationwide to include sexual orientation and gender identity.
When the Equality Act is enacted, its effects will be bold and widespread, prohibiting discrimination against LGBTQ Americans in employment, education, access to credit, jury service, federal funding, housing and public accommodations.
These reforms are desperately needed. According to Gallup, a record 4.5% of all Americans identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. And among African Americans, that figure rises to 5%.
Despite amazing strides made in visibility, representation and recognition, bigotry against these millions of Americans is all too widespread. For example, 42% of lesbian, gay and bisexual people and 78% of transgender people say they have experienced discrimination or harassment on the job simply because of who they are.
Staggering figures such as these demonstrate the need for the strong federal protections enshrined in the Equality Act.
Unfortunately, many opposed to this legislation have been spreading falsehoods and misrepresentations about what this bill does, but they’re simply not accurate.
The Equality Act is a common-sense reform that does not interfere with existing religious exemptions — safeguards for people of faith that are also important to protect. Members of the clergy will not be forced to officiate same-sex marriages, for example.
Nor is this legislation harmful to women, as some have alleged. Women-only programming and facilities will not be negatively affected, because entities such as these, created to overcome the effects of past discrimination, have generally not been considered to constitute sex discrimination. This legislation ultimately seeks to expand and advance the equal treatment of women, who are also still fighting for greater rights and representation.
These mischaracterizations reveal a sad truth: members of the LGBTQ community still face hatred and discrimination and demand bold action to right these wrongs.
It’s clear that, despite past victories for this community, like winning the battle for nationwide marriage equality at the Supreme Court, general attitudes are not keeping pace with this progress.
A similar story played out after the landmark 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education case, which outlawed segregation, but did little to convince many in the South to abandon racist Jim Crow laws. A decade later, the Civil Rights Act helped mandate these much-needed changes.
On May 17, the day the House passed the Equality Act, also marked the 65th anniversary of the Brown ruling. I believe it’s no coincidence that these two historic events occurred on the same day.
The modern LGBTQ rights movement is a chapter of the ongoing American story. It’s one that includes many separate yet parallel struggles to achieve liberty and justice for all.
As we move further in this quest for equality, it just makes sense to strengthen existing civil rights laws and make sure more Americans are protected by them.
The Equality Act achieves this for our LGBTQ friends, family and neighbors of every creed and color, and its passage in the House is something worth celebrating.
I am proud to cosponsor the Equality Act, and even prouder to vote for it last week. And you can be sure I’ll continue fighting for LGBTQ rights.
Because our country and our world must continue to bend towards justice.
Rep. Carson represents the 7th District of Indiana. He is a Member of the Congressional Black Caucus and one of three Muslims in Congress. Rep. Carson sits on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and the House Intelligence Committee, where he is chairman of the Subcommittee on Counterterrorism, Counterintelligence and Counterproliferation. Contact Rep. Carson at carson.house.gov/contact.