July-August 2020 Church & State Magazine - July/August 2020

Discrimination Denied! Supreme Court Says Landmark Civil Rights Law Protects LGBTQ Americans

  Rob Boston

The U.S. Supreme Court June 15 handed down a major ruling on LGBTQ rights – and it wasn’t what a lot of people were expecting.

Ruling 6-3, the court held that Title VII of the landmark 1964 Civil Rights Act, which bars employment discrimination on the basis of race, religion, national origin and sex, incudes members of the LGBTQ community.

Rebuffing the anti-LGBTQ views held by the Trump administration, Justice Neil M. Gorsuch wrote, “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.

The ruling in Bostock v. Clayton County consolidated several cases brought by Aimee Stephens, Don Zarda and Gerald Bostock, who were fired from their jobs because they were gay or transgender.

The cases touched on religious issues, but they were not directly raised before the high court. Stephens, a transgender woman in Michigan, was terminated from her position at a funeral home because she wanted to present at work as the woman she was, but her boss said her identity was in conflict with his religious beliefs. (Stephens and Zarda did not live to see the ruling come down. Stephens died May 12, and Zarda passed away in 2014.)

The court held that the question of whether a religious boss can fire an LGBTQ person would have to wait for another day.

Gorsuch wrote the court is “deeply concerned with preserving the promise of the free exercise of religion enshrined in our Constitution; that guarantee lies at the heart of our pluralistic society.” But he went on to add that such deliberations “are questions for future cases. …”

In an angry dissent. Justices Sam­uel A. Alito and Clarence M. Thomas accused the majority of legislating from the bench. The two asserted that neither “‘sexual orientation’ nor ‘gender identity’ appears on that list” of groups protected by the Civil Rights Act.

Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote a separate dissent. Kavanaugh said he does not believe the 1964 law includes LGBTQ Americans, but he saluted members of that community for their “extraordinary vision, tenacity, and grit” in fighting for their rights.

Christian nationalist groups were predictably angry. Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, issued a statement asserting that the 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.”

Americans United, however, welcomed the decision.

 “This Supreme Court decision is a landmark victory for LGBTQ people that affirms they have employment protections that allow them to live as their true selves,” said Rachel Laser, AU president and CEO, in a statement. “We owe a deep debt of gratitude to Aimee Stephens, Don Zarda and Gerald Bostock for their brave fight to secure these rights for the entire LGBTQ community.”                                   


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