WASHINGTON DC — In a historic ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which bans discrimination based on sex, prohibits discrimination against gay, lesbian and transgendered workers.
The justices ruled 6-3 that the Civil Rights Act, which was enacted on July 2 1964 and outlaws discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin, was now equally applicable to the LGBTQ community. In doing so, the justices issued sweeping protections for gay workers, barring discrimination in fields that include:
* Health care
* and financial credit.
Sarah Warbelow, the legal director for the Human Rights Campaign, a leading gay civil rights organization, issued a statement calling this ruling a “landmark decision,” adding “(O)ur nation’s highest court affirmed the rights of LGBTQ workers. Now, discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity have both been understood to be forms of sex discrimination that are prohibited under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. That means that a person cannot be fired for being LGBTQ.”
Which Justices Voted For This Decision?
The decision surprised many political observers, since the court now has a 5-4 conservative majority, with five justices appointed by Republican presidents and four appointed by Democratic presidents. But while the four liberal justices supported this decision, so did Justice Neil Gorsuch, who had been appointed by President Donald Trump, and Chief Justice John Roberts, who had been appointed by President George W. Bush.
Their decision comes just five years after the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in Obergefell vs. Hodges that the fundmental right to marry is guaranteed to same sex couples, legalizing gay marriage nationwide.
A number of court watchers had predicted the Supreme Court would go in the opposite direction on this case, and rule that the Civil Rights Act was intended to ban discrimination based on gender, not sexual orientation. The fact that President Trump had appointed two justices to the court, giving conservatives a narrow majority, led them to believe the court would rule that any changes under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act would have to come from Congress and the president, not the courts.
But it was Trump’s first appointee to the court who wrote the ruling.
For gay rights activists, this appeared to be a win they hadn’t fully expected — and they were not complaining.
“Today is a victory for LGBTQ employees everywhere and our entire country,” Warbelow noted.
What Were The Reactions To This Decision?
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a relatively conservative organization that usually supports Republicans, issued a statement praising the decision and noting they were pleased that “as a result of today’s Supreme Court ruling, federal law prohibits discrimination in the workplace against gay, lesbian and transgendered employees. Combating discrimination also allows our diverse workforce and free enterprise system to reach its full potential.”
On Twitter, the decision drew lots of praise, and not just from gay rights activists. U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, who is running for re-election and has been ranked among the most vulnerable incumbents, posted a message that “All Americans deserve a fair opportunity to pursue the American dream. Today’s landmark Supreme Court ruling is a major advancement for LGBTQ rights.”
Journalist and gay rights activist Dan Savage posted: “Remember good news? This is good news. And the fact that one of Trump’s appointees wrote the majority pro-gay/pro-trans opinion means that gay-hating/Trump-humping rightwingers are going to be blowing gaskets… so icing on the cake.”
The Simon Wiesenthal Center, a global human rights organization that fights anti-Semitism and teaches the lessons of the Holocaust for future generations, posted “Watershed event for equality of all Americans as US Supreme Court decision confirming #LGBTQ’s full and equal rights under the law. Gay, lesbian and transgender workers are now fully protected by federal civil rights law. A victory for all Americans.”
What Does The Ruling Mean For Florida?
The Miami Herald posted a tweet noting that in Florida, there are no statewide anti-discrimination protections for gay and lesbian workers, although many of Florida’s cities — including Orlando, Tampa, Fort Lauderdale and Miami – do have local anti-discrimination ordinances. Now, The Miami Herald noted, gay Floridians may no longer need the Florida Legislature to pass an anti-discrimination bill.
“A U.S. Supreme Court decision that employers may not fire workers because they are gay or transgender brought pure joy to LGBTQ Floridians, equal rights advocates and allies across the state,” The Miami Herald tweeted.
Last year, the Human Rights Campaign gave Orlando a perfect score for its support of the local gay community. Mayor Buddy Dyer had convinced the Orlando City Commission to approve an anti-discrimination measure for the LGBTQ community during his first term in office, and Orlando once again got a score of 100% on HRC’s annual Municipal Equality Index (MEI) — for the 6th-consecutive year.
Michael Freeman is an Orlando journalist, playwright, and author of the book When I Woke Up, You Were All Dead. Contact him at Freelineorlando@gmail.com.