The June 15 Supreme Court ruling states that anti-LGBTQ discrimination is a form of sexual discrimination. The decision will very likely protect the majority of Lesbian, Gay, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ) workers across the country, and will likely encourage activists to seek wider extra employment safeguards. Conservative and religious groups will all but certainly challenge the ruling in court, and anti-LGBTQ rhetoric will very likely increase.
The landmark ruling on LGBTQ rights will very likely be a turning point for LGBTQ people across the country. While it does not fully protect employees, it is likely to be a catalyst in the fight for equality in other aspects of life. The 6-3 decision establishes that federal employers cannot fire LGBTQ workers based on their sexual orientation or their gender identity. The milestone ruling, which rights groups lauded as a big victory, will certainly have implications beyond employment, as existing laws against sex discrimination now protect members of the LGBTQ community. However, legal gaps in the employment law still exist, and the fate of the transgender military ban is up for debate.
"The ruling is a really big deal because before this, there certainly
were employers who believed that they could just end the
employment of somebody for being gay or transgender."
Jennifer Levi, Director of Transgender Rights Project, GLAD
Protections Cover Most LGBTQ Workers, Not Those Working for Very Small Businesses
Although this development does not affect very small businesses, it will very likely protect a large majority of the estimated 8.1 million LGBTQ workers nationwide. The decision officially widens the scope of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, broadening the interpretation of the word “sex” as a type of discrimination to also include sexual orientation and gender identity, in addition to race, color, and nation of origin.
Formerly, only 21 states and the District of Columbia offered LGBTQ workers full protection from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. While Utah and Wisconsin had limited protections, the 27 other states had none. Jennifer Levi, the director of the Transgender Rights Project at the Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD), said the ruling “is a really big deal because before this, there certainly were employers who believed that they could just end the employment of somebody for being gay or transgender. So this is really an important clarification of the scope of federal law.”
A study from the Center for American Progress (CAP) found that one in four LGBTQ workers experienced discrimination in the workplace in 2016. LGBTQ workers based in the states which did not provide protections now have legal recourse to dispute discriminatory practices at work, including terminations, unless they are employed by businesses with fewer than 15 workers. Workers in this case are unlikely to win lawsuits in highly conservative states, which would likely lead to increased legal scrutiny. At the same time, conservative groups and religious colleges are also likely to challenge the decision in court. The president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, Russell Moore, said that ruling will bring about years of litigation on the meaning of sex and sexuality. As a result, anti-LGBTQ rhetoric and activism will likely increase, which will likely undermine the security situation for members of the community in the US.
Ruling to Fuel Progress of Equal Rights for the US LGBTQ Community
Although the ruling does not provide full equality for LGBTQ people in the US, it will very likely catalyze further progress. Legal gaps still exist at the federal level. For instance, under federal law, sex discrimination is not illegal in public places, including movie theaters, hotels, and restaurants. A bipartisan group of 50 senators is urging Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to introduce the Equality Act to the Senate floor. The bill, which the House of Representatives passed in May 2019, would address these legal gaps. More than 500 organizations, including 500 civil rights groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the American Psychological Association, and the Human Rights Campaign are urging congress to support and pass the bipartisan Equality Act.
Regardless of the fate of the Equality Act, the Supreme Court decision will very likely provide broader protections for the 13 million LGBTQ people in the country. The ruling expands the scope of Title VII, as the court’s logic dictates that anti-LGBTQ discrimination is a form of sex discrimination. It will apply to both federal and state anti-discrimination laws, which encompass housing, education, healthcare, credit, and public accommodation (retail stores, rental establishments, service centers, and recreational facilities). A study from the Iowa State University published in 2019 found a 73 percent chance that banks will turn down same-sex couples seeking a mortgage. Moving forward, banks will have to treat LGBTQ and straight customers equally. The ruling will also very likely hinder the Trump administration’s efforts to roll back housing and healthcare protections for transgender individuals.
In the upcoming months, activists and rights groups will very likely use
the momentum from the ruling to push for the passage of the bill and ensure
further protections for the LGBTQ community nationwide.
The Decision Offers Hope to Those Challenging Military Transgender Ban in Court
The Supreme Court decision is unlikely to dismantle the military transgender ban in the short to medium term, but it will likely embolden judges to rule against it. The ban that the Trump Administration imposed in April 2019 bars transgender people from serving in the military. The issue has become a subject of debate in the legal arena, and legal battles to reverse it are underway. According to Peter Perkowski, the legal director for the LGBTQ advocacy group Modern Military, the US military is “the only employer in America that can still discriminate based on gender identity.”Jennifer Levi noted that the ruling will not directly apply to the four ongoing federal lawsuits disputing the ban, as they fall under the Constitution’s equal protection clause, as opposed to the Civil Rights Act. This will likely prompt more transgender individuals to legally challenge the ban in the near future, possibly triggering retaliation from the Trump administration, should the president win reelection, in the form of a stronger ban.
Near Term Outlook of Supreme Court Ruling Impact on Community and Businesses
The Supreme Court ruling will certainly bring hope to LGBTQ individuals seeking more protections, but it will also very likely give rise to legal challenges from conservative and religious groups. Employers should ensure their workplace policies reflect the new decision as the ruling takes effect. In the near term, anti-LGBTQ rhetoric is likely to increase, undermining the safety of the community.
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