The Supreme Court is hearing arguments on three separate LGBTQ+ cases that pertain to Title VII, a federal law that protects from employer discrimination. The issue in question is whether or not you can be fired for being gay or transgender, as the law doesn’t include any language about sexual orientation or gender identity (as it stands, the language protects from discrimination against “race, color, religion, sex, or national origin”).
In all three cases that the court will be hearing, the plaintiffs are arguing that they were fired due to being gay or trans. Two cases, Altitude Express v. Zarda and Bostock v. Clayton County, are being tried together, as they both claim discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. In the former, a skydiving instructor claimed he was fired for being gay. In the latter, a Georgia county employee alleges the same thing. The third case to be heard, Harris Funeral Homes v. EEOC, surrounds a trans woman who claimed she was fired based on her gender identity.
In each of the cases, the Court is essentially being asked to interpret the language of Title VII, specifically the word “sex.” The fired employees all argue that the use of this word should be for more than traditional sex discrimination cases. Currently, the wording relates only to instances of women being fired because of gender or women experiencing sexual harassment. What the three cases are arguing, however, is that the wording includes sexual orientation and gender identity because they are inseparably related to sex.
As the cases go to the Court this week, many will be looking to the five conservative Justices. Will they stick to their conservative ideological guns? Will they read statutes based on the plain text? Will they surprise everyone and rule in favor of the LGBTQ+ individuals involved? Three Justices in particular — Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and John Roberts — ruled against the legalization of same-sex marriage and rights in 2015, meaning most are expecting them to do the same this time around. The remaining two conservatives on the bench — Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh — are new appointees and have yet to rule in any LGBTQ+-related cases.
While the right to marry was a momentous step for the LGBTQ+ community in 2015, these three cases are more important than ever when it comes to the fight for queer rights in America. If the Court rules in favor of the businesses, it will be a major step back for the country in affording rights to marginalized communities that need it most. Of course, the cases are working against more than just the sitting Justices; the Trump administration has also done its part in attempting to persuade the Court against the LGBTQ+ individuals. The Justice Department even went so far as to file multiple briefs arguing that queer people are not protected under Title VII and that it’s perfectly legal to discriminate against the community.
For now, LGBTQ+ people across the country are holding their breath in anticipation of what’s to come. We can only hope that justice, human decency, understanding, and gay rights will prevail in the end.