The Civil Rights Act of 1964, considered a crowning achievement of the civil right movement, turned 51 Thursday. Signed on July 2 by President Lyndon Johnson, the legislation made it a crime to segregate public places, to discriminate against potential employees and to deny access to government services, on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin.
As the nation evolved on race relations -- marginally narrowing the black-white opportunity gaps and electing the first African-American commander in chief – subsequent civil rights legislation left out the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. Despite numerous attempts, Congress has yet to pass legislation that criminalizes discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. There is a federal hate crimes law against attacks and murders motivative by victims' race or sexuality.
Following the Supreme Court’s validation of same-sex marriage nationwide last week, LGBT activists said they would work with state and national lawmakers on new anti-discrimination legislation. Religious conservatives who oppose homosexuality and marriage equality also said they are lobbying at state houses for protection of their religious freedom.
Here are some facts about the Civil Rights Act of 1964:
1. According to the Ethics & religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, the stated purpose of the federal law was to enforce voting rights for minorities; to give federal judges the power to issue punish individuals who discriminate against citizens and patron in places of public accommodation; to authorize the U.S. attorney general to file discrimination lawsuits on the government’s behalf; to extend the Johnson-created Commission on Civil Rights; to outlaw discrimination in federally funded programs; and to establish the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
2. By a vote of 290-130, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Civil Rights Acts on Feb. 10, 1964. But when the bill came to the U.S. Senate on March 30, a pro-segregationist "Southern Bloc" of 18 senators filibustered the legislation to prevent its passage. The filibuster lasted 54 days, before the stalemate was broken. The law was passed by a 73-27 vote on June 19, 1964.
3. The Civil Rights Act also paved the way for two other major laws of social equality, according to History.com. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 outlawed literacy tests and other discriminatory voting practices largely used in Southern states to deny blacks access to the polls. The Fair Housing Act of 1968 criminalized the denial of housing and mortgages by real estate agents and banks on basis of race, sex and national origin.
Some historians cite the passage of the Civil Rights Act, and the voting and housing laws, as achievements that ended racial discrimination in the country. However, civil rights and LGBT activists say the road ahead will be forged by changing the hearts and minds of racists and homophobes.