Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 stopped discrimination based on “sex.”
Until now, this was only interpreted as protecting women in the workplace, as there was a historically high amount of such discrimination.
But on Monday, the Supreme Court ruled that the language was more inclusive that it has been thus far interpreted, and that gay and transgender employees should also be considered protected groups under the 1964 law.
The Supreme court is majority conservative and so this was an unexpected turn of events, certainly not something foreseen by anyone.
Neil Gorsuch, the latest Justice to be nominated to the Supreme Court by President Trump, favored the new interpretation, an even greater surprise to many, especially staunch conservatives.
During oral arguments, Gorsuch had this to say:
“We must decide whether an employer can fire someone simply for being homosexual or transgender. The answer is clear,” Gorsuch wrote. “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.”
Those voting for the plaintiffs in this latest case, prompting the change, include conservative Gorsuch, as well as liberal Justices Stephen G. Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Elena Kagan.
While President Trump had banned transgender people from serving in the U.S. Armed Forces, he understood that as President, it is not his place to contest the decision of the Supreme Court:
“Well, they’ve ruled…I’ve read the decision. And some people were surprised. But they’ve ruled, and we live with their decision; that’s what it’s all about. We live with the decision of the Supreme Court. Very powerful. A very powerful decision, actually. But they have so ruled.”
Dissenting Justices Samuel A. Alito Jr., Clarence Thomas, and Brett M. Kavanaugh were not happy with the decision and thought that the law was being changed, not more clearly interpreted.
Alito wrote the following:
“If every single living American had been surveyed in 1964, it would have been hard to find any who thought that discrimination because of sex meant discrimination because of sexual orientation — not to mention gender identity, a concept that was essentially unknown at the time.”
But our laws, from the Constitution down to local ordinances, must adapt in order to keep up with the times. The Constitution did not address e-mail or online conferencing, specifically. Does that mean that we should not be able to freely associate with whom we choose, via these means, then? Would interpreting our right to online free speech, or protection from libel on the Internet, be outside of the law? Or, would the inclusion of all this just be adaptation to change in society?
Justice Kavanaugh stated that the Court was “rewrit[ing] history” and did not believe that the original law intended to protect LGBTQ people, but instead clearly addressed assigned sex only:
“Our role is not to make or amend the law. As written, Title VII does not prohibit employment discrimination because of sexual orientation.”
This change means a lot to many LGBTQ Americans, as Title VII had never been interpreted to include sexual orientation or anything but protection for cis-gender men and women.
There was a celebration at the famed Stonewall Inn last night, the namesake of the famous bar where the Stonewall Riots had occurred, fueling the Gay Rights Movement. (The actual Stonewall Inn was immediately adjacent to the present location, in fact.)