In a harrowingly anticipated decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the language of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits sex discrimination, also applies to discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Just three days after the Department of Health and Human Services published a rule that erased protections for transgender patients from discrimination in health care settings, the Supreme Court ruled Monday that “a landmark civil rights law protects gay and transgender workers from workplace discrimination,” explained The New York Times.
This is a “stunning victory” for the LGBTQ+ movement and their quest for equality, the Times added.
In a 6 to 3 vote, where Justice Neil M. Gorsuch wrote the majority opinion, it was the voices of justices John G. Roberts Jr., Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan who backed the language that, more than 50 years ago, gave women equal rights and protections in a country heavily skewed by patriarchy.
The re-evaluation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act was prompted by the Trump Administration’s insistence, following the retirement of Justice Anthony M. Kennedy in 2018, to limit “sex-based” protections to the male-female pair, leaving out millions of gay and transgendered workers.
“Lawyers for employers and the Trump administration argued that the common understanding of sex discrimination in 1964 was bias against women or men and did not encompass discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity,” the Times explained.
The court considered two groups of cases. The first concerned a couple of lawsuits by gay men who said they were fired because of their sexual orientation. The second was about a lawsuit by a transgender woman, Aimee Stephens, who said her employer fired her when she announced that she would adopt her gender identity at work.
“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 Title VII forbids,” Gorsuch wrote.
“There is simply no escaping the role intent plays here: Just as sex is necessarily a but-for cause when an employer discriminates against homosexual or transgender employees, an employer who discriminates on these grounds inescapably intends to rely on sex in its decisionmaking,” the opinion read.
“Today’s decision is one of the court’s most significant rulings ever with respect to the civil rights of gay and transgender individuals,” said Steve Vladeck, CNN Supreme Court analyst and professor at the University of Texas School of Law.
“On its terms, the decision is only about discrimination in the workplace,” Vladeck added. “But it inevitably opens the door to a host of other challenges to discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or transgender status on the ground that it, too, is impermissibly based upon sex. In that respect, only the court’s 2015 ruling recognizing a constitutional right to same-sex marriage may be equally as significant.”
For their part, several community celebrities used social media to celebrate the decision:
Tegan and Sara shared The New York Times‘ headline about the case’s verdict and wrote: “It took 56 years but today the Supreme Court ruled that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects LGBTQ+ workers from workplace discrimination.”
“A terrific and unexpected victory. Some people have spent their entire lives fighting for this. Some died waiting to hear the ruling. There are so many fights ahead but today we celebrate,” they added.