Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibits all employers from discriminating against their workers based on the characteristics of race, color, religion, sex and nationality. However, this legislation did not mention sexual orientation or identity specifically, a distinction that eventually reached the United States Supreme Court in a landmark case.
On June 15, the court ruled that gay and transgender employees are legally protected under the Civil Rights Act, which The Guardian called a “historic victory” for human rights activists around the country.
Of the Supreme Court’s nine appointees, six voted that federal law protects LGBTQ+ workers throughout the U.S. This majority ruling included two tallies from conservative justices, making the outcome even more surprising.
“In many ways, the decision is the strongest evidence yet of how fundamentally, rapidly and, to some degree, unpredictably American views about gay and transgender people have changed across the ideological spectrum in less than 20 years,” Adam Nagourney and Jeremy Peters wrote for The New York Times.
Before the Supreme Court’s final ruling, CBS News conducted a survey regarding gay and lesbian protections under civil rights laws. Results concluded that 82% of Americans support these basic rights, including 94% of Democrats and 71% of Republicans. Furthermore, polling showed majority support from people of all ages, partisans and ideological groups.
As reported in The Guardian, justices listened to three cases specifically: Altitude Express, Inc. v. Zarda; Bostock v. Clayton county; and RG & GR Harris Funeral Homes v. EEOC. Two of these lawsuits — which listed gay men Donald Zarda and Gerald Bostock as plaintiffs — showed employers in New York and Georgia discriminating based on sexuality.
The funeral home case, meanwhile, centered on transgendered woman Aimee Stephens and her boss’s allegations that she could not represent their employer while ignoring "God's commands" and denying her sexuality.
After the nine justices reviewed these cases and voted on a final ruling June 15, former president Barack Obama used Instagram to share the importance of their historic decision.
“Today’s Supreme Court ruling protecting LGBTQ Americans from workplace discrimination is an affirmation of our country’s founding promise of equality for all,” Obama said in an Instagram post. “I’m heartened to think of all those Americans who will no longer live in fear of being fired because of who they are and who they love.”
Before the court’s finding protected employees under federal law — through the Civil Rights Act — The Guardian reported that 29 states allowed some form of workplace discrimination regarding sexual orientation and identity. Justice Neil Gorsuch, who was appointed by President Trump in 2017, said this system favored heteronormative workers over LGBTQ+ employees.
“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,” Gorsuch wrote.
Despite the many advocates for LGBTQ+ rights and opportunities, some organizations spoke against the Supreme Court’s ruling. A religious organization called Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) currently promotes a $115,000 “challenge grant,” which pledges to stand against government overreach.
“I’m deeply saddened by the nonsensical Harris Funeral Homes opinion that the Supreme Court issued yesterday and its arrogant trampling of the Truth,” Bursch wrote. “But I’m even more disheartened by what the opinion symbolizes: a society that has completely lost its way. … Because joy and true happiness do not come from selfish pleasure but from living a life that is oriented to God’s will.”
José Gómez, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, also expressed his concern with the justices’ decision and LGBTQ+ rights. The archbishop explained that men and women are meant to have a “complementary relationship,” and that each individual’s sex is simply a part of God’s greater plan.
“As Pope Francis has taught with such sensitivity, to live in the truth with God’s intended gifts in our lives requires that we receive our bodily and sexual identity with gratitude from our Creator,” Gomez stated. “No one can find true happiness by pursuing a path that is contrary to God’s plan.”
The Supreme Court also voted Thursday to uphold the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, ruling that the Department of Homeland Security’s decision to rescind such legislation was “arbitrary and capricious.” DACA was suspended on Sept. 5, 2017, but will resume immediately following the court’s finding.
Until the end of June, justices will continue to announce orders and opinions before taking recess for the summer.