Equality Act Gets Fresh Wave of Corporate Support

FILE PHOTO: The company logo of Sony Corporation is seen at its headquarters in Tokyo
Sony has joined a list of more than 500 corporations supporting the Equality Act.
REUTERS/Thomas Peter

The Equality Act now has the support of more than 500 corporations, according to the Human Rights Campaign, after dozens of additional businesses signed on to back the effort to pass a comprehensive federal LGBTQ rights bill that has stalled in Congress since the House of Representative passed it last year.

Eighty-seven corporations — including Stop & Shop, Sony, MetLife, Harley-Davidson, and McDonald’s — were added to the growing list of businesses that have thrown their weight behind the legislation, which would amend Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act to include protections on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. The hundreds of businesses make up what is known as the Business Coalition for the Equality Act — which now consists of 503 members, up from 416 as of last April.

The renewed push to advance the Equality Act comes more than a year after the Supreme Court ruled that the Title VII ban on employment discrimination covers sexual orientation and gender identity — and now folks are trying to reignite momentum behind the push to build on that ruling with federal legislation.

“The Equality Act will take major strides toward ensuring that LGBTQ+ people are treated with equal dignity in the eyes of the law, and affirm the longstanding American value that everyone deserves to be treated equally and fairly,” Joni Madison, the interim president of HRC, said in a written statement announcing the fresh influx of corporate approval. “It’s time for the Senators of both parties to support the Equality Act and send it to President Biden’s desk for his signature.”

The Equality Act, however, has hit a wall since passing the lower chamber because it does not have enough Senate votes to overcome the filibuster and still lacks the backing of US Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who is the lone Democratic holdout in the Senate.

Advocates are nonetheless trying to move the needle on the issue by demonstrating the impact of a nationwide business coalition. The corporations in favor the Equality Act employ more than 15 million people and conduct business in all 50 states, according to HRC. Other new additions to the coalition include REI, Edward Jones, Boston Beer Company, Honeywell, and Del Monte Foods.

Polls have indicated that a majority of Americans want federal legislation to protect the LGBTQ community. A Public Religion Research Institute study from October of 2021 found that 82 percent of Americans are in favor of laws protecting LGBTQ people from discrimination, including 67 percent of Republicans, 85 percent of independents, and 92 percent of Democrats. Still, that same poll found that white evangelical Protestants have increasingly warmed up to the idea of religious exemptions, with 62 percent saying they believe small business owners should be allowed to refuse service to LGBTQ individuals. That number rose by 11 percentage points since 2015.

After House lawmakers passed the Equality Act last year with support of three Republicans, Republicans proposed an alternative bill laced with religious exemptions. At that time, Tyler Deaton, a senior advisor to the American Unity Fund and American Unity PAC, told Gay City News that the alternative bill sought to quell concerns about religious freedom in an effort to attract Republican support.

Just three Republicans voted in favor of the Equality Act in 2021 after eight House GOP lawmakers approved it in 2019.