Joe Biden as vice-president in 2012 endeared himself to many LGBTQ2 Americans by endorsing same-sex marriage even before his boss, President Barack Obama.
Now, as president-elect, Biden is making sweeping promises to LGBTQ2 activists, proposing to carry out virtually every major proposal on their wish lists.
Among them: Lifting the Trump administration’s near-total ban on military service for transgender people, barring federal contractors from anti-LGBTQ2 job discrimination, and creating high-level LGBTQ2-rights positions at the State Department, the National Security Council and other federal agencies.
In many cases the measures would reverse executive actions by President Donald Trump, whose administration took numerous steps to weaken protections for transgender people and create more leeway for discrimination against LGBTQ2 people, ostensibly based on religious grounds.
In a policy document, the Biden campaign said Trump and Vice-President Mike Pence “have given hate against LGBTQ2+ individuals safe harbour and rolled back critical protections.”
Beyond executive actions he can take unilaterally, Biden says his top legislative priority for LGBTQ2 issues is the Equality Act, passed by the House of Representatives last year but stalled in the Senate. It would extend to all 50 states the comprehensive anti-bias protections already afforded to LGBTQ2 people in 21 mostly Democratic-governed states, covering such sectors as housing, public accommodations and public services.
Biden says he wants the act to become law within 100 days of taking office, but its future remains uncertain. Assuming the bill passes again in the House, it would need support from several Republicans in the Senate, even if the Democrats gain control by winning two runoff races in Georgia. For now, Susan Collins of Maine is the only GOP co-sponsor in the Senate.
Critics, including prominent religious conservatives, say the bill raises religious freedom concerns and could require some faith-based organizations to operate against their beliefs.
The Equality Act “is a dangerous game changer” in its potential federal threat to religious liberty, said the Rev. Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.
Rep. Chris Stewart, a Utah Republican, tried to strike a compromise last year that would have expanded LGBTQ2 rights nationwide while allowing exemptions for religious groups to act on beliefs that could exclude LGBTQ2 people. His proposal won support from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Seventh-day Adventist Church but was panned by liberal and civil rights groups.
“Anti-equality forces are trying to use the framework of religious liberty to strip away individual rights,” said Alphonso David, president of the Human Rights Campaign, a national LGBTQ2-rights organization.
Among the actions that Biden pledges to take unilaterally, scrapping Trump’s transgender military ban would be among the most notable.