In a move that surprised a lot of people, the U.S. Supreme Court this morning handed down a major ruling affirming LGBTQ rights.
Ruling 6-3, the court held that Title VII of the landmark 1964 Civil Rights Act that bars employment discrimination on the basis of race, religion, national origin and sex incudes members of the LGBTQ community.
Writing for the majority, Justice Neil M. Gorsuch observed, “Today, we must decide whether an employer can fire someone simply for being homosexual or transgender. The answer is clear. An employer who fires 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. Sex plays a necessary and undisguisable role in the decision, exactly what [the law] forbids.”
Gorsuch was joined in the opinion by Chief Justice John G. Roberts and Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.
Today’s ruling consolidated several cases brought by Aimee Stephens, Don Zarda and Gerald Bostock, who were fired from their jobs because they were gay or transgender. In particular, Aimee, a transgender woman in Michigan, was terminated from her position at a funeral home because she wanted to live true to herself and present at work as the woman she was, but her boss said her identity was in conflict with his religious beliefs. Unfortunately, Aimee did not live to see this result; she died May 12. (Don also passed away several years ago.) But thanks to their activism, courage and vision, major employment rights for the LGBTQ community have been secured.
As encouraging as this ruling is, it’s important to keep a few things in mind. First, the dissenting bloc of justices – especially Samuel A. Alito and Clarence M. Thomas – are absolutely entrenched in their belief that federal law does not protect LGBTQ people. Justice Brett Kavanaugh agreed with them, but took pains to salute the LGBTQ community for its “grit” in pursuing its rights. If nothing else, the dissenters remind us of the important role members of the federal judiciary play in securing our rights and how this issue needs to be much more high profile in current political campaigns.
Second, the high court punted on the question of religious freedom in this case. In Stephens’ case, her employer raised religious objections to her decision to transition, but that was not at issue before the court this time. The justices said the religious freedom argument raises “questions for future cases.” (Passage of legislation like the Do No Harm Act and the Equality Act would be a huge step forward in further securing the rights of LGBTQ people and everyone else.)
Third, despite this ruling, the Trump administration isn’t about to let up on its assault on LGBTQ rights. Under Trump, the U.S. Justice Department came down on the wrong side of this case, arguing that Title VII should not be interpreted to protect LGBTQ people. It even dispatched Solicitor General Noel J. Francisco to pitch that argument directly to the court during last year’s oral argument. And let’s not forget that just last week, the Trump administration finalized a new rule that allows people working in the medical profession to discriminate against people who are transgender—a rule of questionable validity in light of today’s ruling.
Fourth, expect Christian nationalist groups to react very badly to this ruling and ramp up their anti-LGBTQ activism.
Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, issued a statement asserting that today’s ruling will have “seismic implications for religious liberty, setting off potentially years of lawsuits and court struggles, about what this means, for example, for religious organizations with religious convictions about the meaning of sex and sexuality.” (Moore also insisted that the Book of Genesis says that God created us male or female, so that settles it.)
Take some time to celebrate today’s win – and read AU’s statement. This is an important victory. But then join Americans United as we ramp up our work defending the right of all Americans to love whom you choose and live your truest and best life. There is still much to be done.