The “Equality Act” Offers a Path Toward Eliminating LGBT Discrimination

Last month, the country took an important step toward guaranteeing equality for LGBT Americans when the Supreme Court ruled in favor of same-sex marriage. With varying levels of enthusiasm, all states are acknowledging that marriage equality is now the law of the land. However, same-sex couples are not out of the woods yet when it comes to discrimination. In more than half of all states, an LGBT person who simply tells a coworker about his or her nuptials could be given a pink slip for no other reason than their sexual orientation.

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Although many Americans assume that workers cannot be fired for identifying as LGBT, the fact is that in 29 states, laws banning discrimination in the workplace, as well as in housing and public accommodations, do not protect people based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. Workers can be fired simply for being gay. In a move that we hope will address this problem, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ruled earlier this month that Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act bans workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation. However, as we’ve seen in the past, the courts frequently disagree, and this decision only protects against anti-LGBT discrimination at work.

Thankfully, we have at our fingertips the permanent solution we need. Last week, Democrats in both chambers of Congress introduced the “Equality Act,” robust antidiscrimination legislation designed to protect the LGBT community not just in the workplace, but also in housing, education, public accommodations, and federal programs. The bill would amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Fair Housing Act to include sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes and will prevent individuals from using the Religious Freedom Restoration Act to legally discriminate against the LGBT community.

The decision for our lawmakers is simple. Acceptance of the LGBT community is well beyond the tipping point in this country. According to a poll released earlier this year by the Human Rights Campaign, almost 70 percent of likely voters support a federal nondiscrimination law. Another poll released earlier this month found that nearly 60 percent of small business owners across the political and religious spectrum oppose laws allowing individuals, associations, or businesses to legally refuse service to anyone based on religious beliefs.

In a relatively short amount of time this country has made dramatic progress toward equality for LGBT individuals, yet discrimination persists. To root out inequality and discrimination, our lawmakers must take a proactive approach to protecting our most vulnerable communities. We hope that Congress will capitalize on the promise of the “Equality Act” to make our country safer and more equal for LGBT Americans, including our Hispanic LGBT brothers and sisters.

Your Housing Rights Are on the Line

By Nancy Wilberg Ricks, Senior Policy Strategist, NCLR

This year all eyes are on anti-discrimination laws that impact your housing rights, as the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) intends to release a much-needed and improved Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) rule. Congress has already tried to stymie that rule, while the Supreme Court will scrutinize a legal theory called “disparate impact” that has long helped families battle housing discrimination.

This alphabet soup of players and policies could have a big impact on where you live, how much you pay for housing, and whether or not you are denied a chance to move into a neighborhood that’s good for your kids.

Legislative Obstacles
HUD’s release of a new AFFH rule has been a point of debate for more than 40 years. Now that HUD aims to finalize the rule, Congress is working hard to ensure that it is impossible to enforce. This rule would help in multiple ways:

  • It ensures that all people—regardless of race, ethnicity, family status, or disability—have a range of choices on where to live.
  • It gives jurisdictions the tools to identify barriers to fair housing and devise their own solutions to the unique problems they face.
  • It will advance opportunity in America by shaping investments in housing, transportation, environment, health, education, infrastructure, and economic development—all essential pathways to prosperity.

Some members of Congress are doing their best to undo years of progress made in rooting out housing discrimination. In the House last week, Representative Garrett (R–N.J.) offered an amendment to an appropriations bill that would stop the Department of Justice from enforcing the disparate impact rule, Representative Gosar (R–Ariz.) created an amendment that would stop HUD from finalizing the rule altogether, and Representative Stivers (R–Ohio) deliberately offered an amendment after midnight—when few members were present to speak against it—to prohibit the use of funds for fair housing programs. These are egregious and unfounded interventions taken by Congress to impede consumer protections.

Rumblings in the Courts
Adding fuel to the fire, the Supreme Court will decide this month whether the legal theory of “disparate impact” should be modified. Under disparate impact, a housing or lending policy or practice can be ruled discriminatory if it has a disproportionate, adverse effect on a given racial or ethnic group, even if it is unintentional. Disparate impact has laid effective precedent for decades to battle redlining, exclusionary zoning, and racial steering.

Decision-makers must maintain the strength of disparate impact’s parameters. While blatant housing discrimination is rare, studies indicate that prejudice endures. Minority home-seekers are still shown fewer available housing units, raising the costs of search and constraining their choices. With a ruling later this month, the Supreme Court threatens to dilute its strength, which could compromise years of consumer wins.

Segregation endures. It is no coincidence that the Civil Rights Act, passed in 1964, led to the creation of the Fair Housing Act, on which decades of legal precedent now hang. Today’s political climate compromises these advances and has made leaders blind to the impact of housing injustice. Invalidating fair housing rights amounts to much bigger problems for communities and society as a whole. In the wake of racial and economic unrest, now is not the time to roll back civil rights.

Economic Rights Are Essential to the Pursuit of Happiness

Richard_Cordray_newLast week, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) Director Richard Cordray addressed students at Michigan State University on the anniversary of three pivotal moments in American History: the Supreme Court’s 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision, the 1964 Civil Rights Act, and the Equal Credit Opportunity Act of 1974. With these three historic events, the United States moved closer to fully realizing the inevitable truth that civil rights, political rights, and economic rights are inextricably linked. They are all necessary for a free and democratic society.

While Brown v. Board of Education and the 1964 Civil Rights Act are relatively known for their roles in reducing legal discrimination, Director Cordray used his speech to highlight a less-known antidiscrimination law: the 1974 Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA), which celebrates its 40th anniversary this year. For the first time, ECOA outlawed discrimination by creditors against borrowers based on race, ethnicity, sex, age, and national origin.

While fairness in the lending law has been on the books for four decades, lending discrimination against people of color persists today. People of color have always been targeted by subprime lenders, but the housing crisis fanned the flames of predatory practices as lenders offered risky mortgages that ultimately led to default and foreclosure, pushing millions out of their homes. Latino wealth was decimated, and the racial wealth gap between Latinos and Whites continues to widen more than ever.

Even when controlling for similar credit profiles, research shows people of color routinely pay significantly more for auto loans than Whites.

Last December, NCLR strongly supported a historic $98 million settlement between the CFPB and auto lending giant Ally Financial. In violation of the ECOA, more than 200,000 Hispanics, Asians, and Blacks were charged higher rates for auto loans.

Despite its efforts to root out unscrupulous lenders in the auto sector, the CFPB has its hands tied due to the exemption of the real culprits in auto loan discrimination against minority borrowers: the car dealership lenders who set initial loan prices for borrowers. Despite the fact that auto lenders play a pivotal role in working with customers and setting auto loan prices, the CFPB has no oversight authority of the dealers because they are not considered to be engaging in financial activities.

The auto market must not be exempt from the preservation of Latinos’ economic and civil rights. Like buying a home, the decision to buy a car often involves a large loan paid over a period of years, amounting to the second most expensive purchase most borrows will make in a lifetime.

As of today, laws like the Equal Credit Opportunity Act are in place to protect people of color from discrimination, but ongoing price discrimination against minority borrowers doesn’t reflect this resolution.

To create a fully fair and equitable market, the CFPB should be granted authority over the auto market to directly enforce the Equal Credit Opportunity Act and all relevant antidiscrimination legislation.