U.S. Supreme Court ruling boosts legal argument for LGBT+ rights, experts say

Tuesday, 16 June 2020 00:24 GMT

A man holds a Pride Flag, runs in front of the U.S. Supreme Court building after the court ruled that a federal law banning workplace discrimination also covers sexual orientation, in Washington, D.C., U.S., June 15, 2020. REUTERS/Tom Brenner TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

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The Supreme Court ruling will have "enormous" implications for LGBT+ rights cases, legal experts said

By Oscar Lopez and Matthew Lavietes

MEXICO CITY/NEW YORK June 15 (Openly) - The U.S. Supreme Court decision that gay and trans people are legally protected from discrimination will have "enormous" implications for LGBT+ rights cases, experts said on Monday, possibly helping to end a ban on trans soldiers serving in the military.

In a 6-3 decision, the court ruled that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which protects workers from discrimination on the basis of sex, race, color, national origin and religion, applies to LGBT+ people.

"Today's decision is enormous," said Shannon Minter, legal director at the National Center for Lesbian Rights, an advocacy group.

"For the first time in our nation's history, we have nationwide workplace protections for our community,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

He said U.S. courts may now be more likely to rule in favor of protections for LGBT+ people in issues involving health care, housing and education.

Among the most high-profile cases that could be given a boost by the ruling is the challenge to the U.S. ban on transgender people enlisting in the military.

"What we now know after today's decision is that the U.S. Supreme Court agrees that discrimination because a person is transgender is sex discrimination, plain and sample," said Minter, who represents Nicolas Talbott, a transgender man challenging the ban in federal court.

"We just moved on to much stronger footing in our challenges," he added.

The administration of President Donald Trump froze the recruitment of trans soldiers last year, although serving personnel were allowed to remain.

Trump said the military did not to be burdened by the "tremendous medical costs and disruption" of having trans soldiers.

Rachel Mosby, a transgender woman in the state of Georgia who said she was fired from her job as a fire chief after transitioning, said the high court's ruling could help her lawsuit against the city of Byron.

"I'm still trembling with happiness. When I read it, I couldn't stop shaking and crying," she said.

Mosby, who led the city's fire department for more than ten years, filed a discrimination lawsuit in federal court in April.

The Supreme Court's ruling provides protections to some 8.1 million LGBT+ workers, according to the Williams Institute, a  research center at the University of California.  

The Institute has previously reported that about two-thirds of lesbian, bisexual and gay people have been fired or denied a job compared with 40% of heterosexuals.

Monday’s decision could provide a guide for other discrimination cases, said Diana Flynn of the U.S. legal advocacy group Lambda Legal, in a Facebook live stream.

"We have a tool here that is not only going to be effective in going out and enforcing the law ... but should allow us to make strong arguments with respect virtually to every federal statute prohibiting sex discrimination," she said.

The ruling could also affect the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services's decision last week to lift anti-discrimination protections for trans people that had been implemented under the administration of former President Barack Obama, experts said.

Nevertheless, some experts cautioned that wording in the ruling could allow for exempting religious groups from federal anti-discrimination laws. 

Writing the court's majority opinion, Justice Neil Gorsuch, a Trump appointee, wrote that the court was "deeply concerned with preserving the promise of the free exercise of religion enshrined in our Constitution."

The language signals that the court could likely rule in favor of exempting religious groups in future cases, said Katherine Franke, director of the Center for Gender and Sexuality Law at Columbia Law School.

"If you compare how impassioned the court is about religious liberty with how technical they are about workplace equality, I foresee when those two values come up against each other, that religious liberty will seem more important than nondiscrimination protections."

Related stories:

U.S. Supreme Court rules workers can't be fired for being LGBT+

In good faith? U.S. legal battle over gay adoption intensifies

Equality Act to protect LGBT+ citizens advances in U.S. Congress

(Reporting by Oscar Lopez and Matthew Lavietes, editing by Ellen Wulfhorst; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)