SCOTUS Says: The 1964 Civil Rights Act Protects LGBTQ+ People, Too

By N. Jamiyla Chisholm Jun 15, 2020

The U.S. Supreme Court confirmed that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 also protects LGBTQ+ workers against discrimination based on sex, in a 6-3 ruling today (June 15), giving the community a hard-fought win during a month that has signified their struggle for equal rights.

Justice Neil M. Gorsuch, who delivered the majority opinion, was joined by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. Justices Samuel A. Alito Jr., Brett M. Kavanaugh and Clarence Thomas dissented.

Addressing the majority vote, Gorsuch wrote in the opinion

There, in Title VII, Congress outlawed discrimination in the workplace on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. Today, we must decide whether an employer can fire someone simply for being homosexual or transgender. The answer is clear. 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. 

The decision came down to three different cases from 2017 and 2018: two suits by two different gay men—one who was fired from a government job and another who was fired from a skydiving agency—and one from a transgender woman. Even though Gorsuch acknowledged in the decision that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 did not intend to include protections for gay and lesbian employees, he said it was understood. 

Wrote Gorsuch: 

Those who adopted the Civil Rights Act might not have anticipated their work would lead to this particular result. Likely, they weren’t thinking about many of the act’s consequences that have become apparent over the years, including its prohibition against discrimination on the basis of motherhood or its ban on the sexual harassment of male employees. But the limits of the drafters’ imagination supply no reason to ignore the law’s demands. When the express terms of a statute give us one answer and extratextual considerations suggest another, it’s no contest. Only the written word is the law, and all persons are entitled to its benefit.

To read the full decision, click here.