The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday answered a question that shouldn’t have needed asking: No. Workers cannot be fired for being gay or transgender.
The decision that they are protected by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits sex discrimination, was written by Justice Neil Gorsuch and passed 6-3.
The landmark ruling is in keeping with many lower-court decisions that anti-discrimination laws cover sexual orientation and transgender status, as well as the conclusions of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
After many of the hair-splitting justifications and arguments over definitions of gender and sex that have muddied conversations in the public square, Gorsuch’s ruling cut to the heart of the matter: “An individual’s homosexuality or transgender status is not relevant to employment decisions. That’s because it is impossible to discriminate against a person for being homosexual or transgender without discriminating against that individual based on sex.”
The decision involved the cases of two gay men who were fired because of their sexual orientation and a woman who was fired after she came out as transsexual. One of the plaintiffs, Gerald Bostock, was fired from his job as a child welfare services coordinator in 2013 after joining a gay recreational softball league.
“I feel some validation right now,” Bostock said Monday.
The ruling was somewhat surprising, considering President Donald Trump’s overhaul of the Supreme Court. His two conservative appointees to the high court were supposed to prevent “legislating from the bench,” as Justice Samuel Alito’s dissenting view described this decision.
But that’s not what this is, Gorsuch asserted, writing, “In Title VII, Congress adopted broad language making it illegal for an employer to rely on an employee’s sex when deciding to fire that employee. We do not hesitate to recognize today a necessary consequence of that legislative choice: An employer who fires an individual merely for being gay or transgender defies the law.”
Put aside the legalese and it should be obvious that discriminating against qualified workers for their sexual or gender identity is wrong. Codifying it would have increased the suffering of a group of people who are already marginalized — and, in many cases, brutalized — for no good reason.
Why anyone would want that is a question for the ages.
While running for office in 2016, Trump claimed that he would protect LGBT rights, but the administration’s Justice Department argued against the plaintiffs in this case. Since his election, Trump’s administration has moved to ban trans people from serving in the military, eliminated rules protecting trans students and pushed to allow businesses to turn away gay and trans customers.
And last week his administration finalized a regulation that rolls back protections for LGBT people against sex discrimination in health care. These are attacks on their rights and their dignity.
When asked by the president, “What do you have to lose?” voters should keep this in mind.
We don’t have to like or agree with everyone we meet or with their personal decisions about their lives. But when it comes to the law, every American deserves equal rights.