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Updated at 5:52 p.m.
In a landmark decision, the United States Supreme Court ruled Monday that the 1964 Civil Rights Act protects gay, lesbian and transgender employees from discrimination based on sex. The decision was 6-3, Judge Neil Gorsuch, the first to be appointed by President Trump to the court, writing the majority opinion. The opinion was joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and the court’s four Liberal justices.
“Today,” said Gorsuch, “we have to decide whether an employer can fire someone just because they are gay or transgender. The answer is clear.” He found that such discrimination is prohibited by the wording of the 1964 law which prohibits discrimination in employment based on race, religion, national origin or sex.
The decision is a huge victory for the LGBTQ community and a major loss for the Trump administration, which sided with employers in three court cases.
Two employees involved took legal action after claiming they were fired for being gay. One of them, Gerald Bostock, won awards for his work as the child protection coordinator for Clayton County, Ga., But said he was fired after joining a gay recreational softball league. As he told NPR in October, “Within months I was fired because I was gay. I lost my livelihood. I lost my medical insurance and was recovering from prostate cancer at the time. It was devastating. ” The second case involved Donald Zarda, a now deceased skydiving instructor who was gay.
The third case was brought by Aimee Stephens, who had worked for six years as a funeral director in Livonia, Michigan, but was fired two weeks after telling her boss she was transgender and would come. work as a woman. She passed away earlier this year, but her case has survived.
Gorsuch expressed his opinion based on the text of the 1964 law and its prohibition of discrimination based on sex.
“It is impossible to discriminate against a person because they are homosexual or transgender without discriminating (…) based on sex”, wrote the justice. He gave the example of two employees attracted to men, one male, the other female. “If the employer fires the employee for no other reason than the fact that he is attracted to men”, but not the woman who is attracted to men, it is clearly a dismissal based on sex, did he declare.
Gorsuch’s opinion drew two dissent, one from Trump’s court-appointed person Brett Kavanaugh, so the two Trump’s appointees were in a verbal version of what the law professor of Yale, William Eskridge, called it “trench warfare”.
Judge Samuel Alito, joined by Judge Clarence Thomas, wrote the main dissent. He accused the majority of sailing under a “textualist flag”, claiming essentially to remain faithful to the terms of the statute but instead updating it “to better reflect the current values of the society”.
John Bursch, who represented the funeral home in the transgender termination case, agreed. “They followed the culture, not the law,” he said.
Gorsuch acknowledged that in 1964, Congress probably did not have the LGBTQ community in mind when it banned discrimination based on sex. But he said the terms of the law are clear. And he highlighted several major court rulings since the passage of the law read it extensively – for example, to ban discrimination against women because they have children and to ban sexual harassment against women. and men.
As Gorsuch said of Title VII, “the limits of the drafters’ imagination provide no reason to ignore the requirements of the law.”
At the end of his 33-page opinion, however, Gorsuch cited several potential caveats.
He noted, for example, that some employers might have valid religious objections to hiring gay or trans workers. But he added that concerns about how the 1964 Civil Rights Act “will intersect with religious freedom are nothing new,” indicating that the 1993 Restoration of Religious Freedom Act is “a” super law ”which may offer a potential lifeline to employers who oppose it on religious grounds. reasons for hiring homosexual and trans people.
That said, Monday’s decision was remarkable in many ways. Almost half of the states have no legal protection for LGBTQ employees. Now, federal law will protect employees in those states from dismissal and other adverse employment decisions made on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
The move is a direct blame for the Trump administration, which sided with employers in these cases, and used its regulatory power to issue new guidelines that remove previous protections for transgender people.
While LGBTQ advocates recognize there may well be legal hurdles ahead, Stanford Law School professor Pam Karlan has expressed optimism that few LGBTQ workers will face discrimination from large employers. such as businesses, hospitals and universities.
“We haven’t really seen anyone other than the Catholic Bishops’ Conference come in and argue that there are a lot of employers out of the blue who refuse to hire lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender people. “said Karlan, who argued one of the Title VII cases before the Supreme Court in October.
Yale professor Eskridge agreed. He noted that the Liberal Supreme Court of the 1960s, led by Chief Justice Earl Warren, interpreted an immigration law that prohibited psychopaths from entering the country to speak to homosexuals.
“LGBT people have come a long way in the last generation; the country has come a long way in the last generation; and the Supreme Court has come a long way in the last generation, ”said Eskridge, co-author of an upcoming book, Wedding Equality: from outlaws to in-laws, on the history of same-sex marriage equality in the United States.
Evan Wolfson, Founder of Freedom to Marry, added: “A great lesson to be learned from this opinion is to not give up. You have to believe that you can make a difference.”
Speaking to reporters, Trump said of the ruling: “They have ruled and we are living with the Supreme Court ruling.” He called the opinion “very powerful”.
Former Vice President Joe Biden, the alleged Democratic nominee, praised the Supreme Court ruling in a statement, saying: “Today, claiming that sexual orientation and discrimination based on gender identity are prohibited under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the Supreme Court upheld the simple but deeply American idea that every human being should be treated with respect and dignity. ”
The notice is available here.
Emmett Witkovsky-Eldred contributed to this report.