Mary Walsh and Bev Nance pose at their 2009 wedding in Provincetown, MA. (Photo: Mary Walsh)

Bipartisan legislation reintroduced Wednesday in the Senate and the House of Representatives, if passed, would amend existing federal civil rights laws to explicitly prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, housing, education, credit, federal jury service, public accommodations and the use of federal funds.

In the Senate, the Equality Act of 2019 was introduced by Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Susan Collins (R-ME), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) and Cory Booker (D-NJ), joined by 43 other senators, according to Merkley, who previously had introduced the legislation. In the House, Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI) introduced the legislation, joined by 239 representatives.

In areas where sex discrimination is not already prohibited, the bill also would amend existing law to ban it, Cicilline said in a post on his website.

“It is time we ensure that all people are judged on their talents and abilities and have full access to the services they need and the opportunities they seek,” said Collins, chair of the Senate Special Committee on Aging. “This bill marks the beginning of that process, and I urge my colleagues to join me as we take steps to build bipartisan consensus around the Equality Act.”

Reintroduction of the bill came as LGBT elder advocacy group SAGE held its first-ever National Day of Advocacy in Washington, D.C., in conjunction with its annual leadership conference. The group also launched a new “Still Out in Front: 50 Years of Pride” campaign in observance of the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising and to highlight people who sparked the modern LGBT rights movement. 

“The Equality Act would prohibit the wrongheaded and heartless discrimination that Mary Walsh and Bev Nance were subjected to,” SAGE CEO Michael Adams told McKnight’s Senior Living, referring to the case of a married lesbian couple who maintained they were denied residency at a continuing care retirement community because they were not a married heterosexual couple. They filed a lawsuit against the community, which was dismissed in January.

“The fact is, nearly two-thirds of LGBT people across the country have experienced discrimination,” Adams said. “For LGBT elders, the problem is made far worse as a result of a lifetime of social stigma and prejudice, particularly in areas like housing. Nearly half of same-sex couples report experiencing discrimination when looking for a home.”

Forty-four business groups, among them the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Multifamily Housing Council, also sent a letter to Senate and House leaders on Wednesday in support of the legislation.

“Our members recognize the value of equal opportunity because it enables them to attract and retain the most talented employees,” they wrote.

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