On Monday the Supreme Court ruled that federal law prevents the discrimination of LGBT employees, an important win for advocates of gay and trans rights — and a surprising decision by a mostly conservative court.
By a vote of 6-3, the court ruled that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which bans the discrimination of employees based on sex among other factors, applies to gender status and sexual orientation. The ruling was upheld from the lower courts.
Another surprise was the decision written by Donald Trump’s appointee Neil Gorsuch, who was joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and the court’s four liberal justices, forming a majority.
“An employer who fired an individual for being homosexual or transgender fires that person for traits or actions it would not have questioned in members of a different sex,” Gorsuch wrote, “Sex plays a necessary and undisguisable role in the decision, exactly what Title VII forbids.”
“Those who adopted the Civil Rights Act might not have anticipated their work would lead to this particular result,” he wrote, “But the limits of the drafters’ imagination supply no reason to ignore the law’s demands.”
“Only the written word is the law, and all persons are entitled to its benefit,” he states.
Across the nation, 21 states have adopted laws preventing discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender. Seven other states adopted this rule, though it only applies to public employees. These states will retain the laws, with Monday’s ruling protecting everyone in the country.
The case is considered a monumental win by gay and trans rights advocates, rivaling even the decision allowing same-sex marriage. They acknowledge that sexual orientation was not considered by anyone in congress when the bill was written. They state that when an employer fires a male for dating a male but doesn’t fire a male for dating a female, that violates the law.
President Donald Trump, speaking at a White House round-table about senior citizen issues, called the decision “very powerful” and said “we live with” it.
“They’ve ruled and we live with their decision. That’s what it’s all about, we live with the decision of the Supreme Court,” he said.
“The Supreme Court’s clarification that it’s unlawful to fire people because they’re LGBTQ is the result of decades of advocates fighting for our rights,” James Esseks, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender & HIV Project, said in a statement. “The court has caught up to the majority of our country, which already knows that discriminating against LGBTQ people is both unfair and against the law.”
Sarah Kate Ellis, the president and CEO of GLAAD, declared, “The decision gives us hope that as a country we can unite for the common good and continue the fight for LGBTQ acceptance.”
The decision was celebrated by democratic leaders, with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), regarding it as “a victory for the LGBTQ community, for our democracy and for our fundamental values of equality and justice for all.”
Former Vice President Joe Biden, presumed to be the Democrat’s presidential nominee, called the ruling “a momentous step forward for our country,” adding that the court had “confirmed the simple but profoundly American idea that every human being should be treated with respect and dignity, that everyone should be able to live openly, proudly, as their true selves without fear.”
The ruling comes as justice for Gerald Bostock, who was fired from a county position after joining a gay softball team, and the family and friends of Donald Zarta who was fired from a skydiving job after he joked with a female client, telling her not to worry about being strapped to him during a jump because he was gay. Zarda passed away before the case could reach the Supreme Court.
Bostock, in a statement released by the Human Rights Campaign, said, “There are truly no words to describe just how elated I am,” adding that he felt “devastated” after being fired from the position he loved seven years ago. He said he felt “sincerely grateful” for the Supreme Court, his attorneys, and the advocacy groups that supported him.
“Today, we can go to work without the fear of being fired for who we are and who we love,” Bostock said. “Yet, there is more work to be done. Discrimination has no place in this world, and I will not rest until we have equal rights for all.”
In an interview with Katy Tur on Monday, he said that the ruling gave him “validation” for what he went through, saying that it was not easy. He noted that not only did he lose his only source of income, but his health insurance as well. It came at a time when he was battling prostate cancer.
“In this this time of uncertainty, and certainly some dark days with a civil unrest going on around us, my hope is that this this brings a little bit of sunshine to these dark days, because what it tells me is there is hope,” Bostock said. “I had faith in the system and I had faith that the justices would do the right thing. And I think this is just one step in laying the groundwork, though, because it underscores given everything going on in our country today that we still have more work to do.”
In separate statements, Pelosi and the Human Rights Campaign called for the Senate to pass legislation that was passed in the House called the Equality Act, which expands the banning of discrimination to education and housing.
The court case included Aimee Stephens, who was fired from her job two weeks after telling the company she was transgender. Her boss told her she was fired because she didn’t follow the dress code.
“He said, this is not going to work,” Stephens said. “And he handed me a letter firing me and offering me what I took to be hush money to keep my mouth shut.”
Stephens, unfortunately, did not live to see the court case through. She died on May 12 while in a hospice for kidney disease. Her surviving spouse fought the case.
The ACLU stated that her case clearly showed discrimination, for had she been assigned female sex at birth she would not have been fired for dressing as a woman. Instead, Stephens was assigned the male gender at birth and was promptly fired for not conforming to male stereotypes.
The funeral home defended itself, saying that treating men and women equally does not mean they have to treat a man as a woman.
“It is not sex discrimination for an employer to apply a sex-specific dress code or provide sex-specific changing and restroom facilities based on biological sex rather than one’s internal sense of gender,” the company said to the court, saying that their actions did not show a bias towards one gender.
The Trump administration argued to the court that Title VII does not apply to these cases, which is the exact opposite that the government held during the Obama administration.
“The ordinary meaning of ‘sex’ is biologically male or female; it does not include sexual orientation,” the Justice Department said. “An employer who discriminates against employees in same-sex relationships thus does not violate Title VII as long as it treats men in same-sex relationships the same as women in same-sex relationships.”