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The Supreme Court on Monday issued a landmark ruling for LGBTQ rights.
By a 6-3 vote, the court ruled that the 1964 Civil Rights Act — which bans workplace discrimination based on sex, race and religion — also applies to sexual orientation. Prior to the decision, it was legal in a majority of states for employees to be fired for being gay, bisexual or transgender.
Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Neil Gorsuch broke with their conservative colleagues to join the four liberal justices in the court ruling. In the majority opinion, Gorsuch wrote that it’s impossible to fire someone for being gay or transgender without discriminating against them based on sex.
In a dissenting opinion, Justice Samuel Alito called the decision a “brazen abuse of our authority” and accused the majority of imposing modern sensibilities on a law that was never intended to consider LGBTQ rights.
Why there’s debate
The decision has been celebrated as a major victory for LGBTQ Americans, on par with the Supreme Court case that legalized same-sex marriage in 2015. At its most basic level, the ruling provides them with legal protections from discrimination in the workplace. But some legal experts say it may lead to broader changes. The reasoning within the majority opinion could provide precedent for a future expansion of LGBTQ rights in education, housing, government services and other areas, they argue.
Some activists have cautioned against overreacting to the ruling, which they see as a positive step in an ongoing effort that still has a long way to go. This is especially true for transgender people, who just last week had antidiscrimination protections in health care rolled back by the Trump administration.
Beyond the legal implications, the case could also have a significant political impact. For many social conservatives, Trump’s appointments of Supreme Court justices like Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh have been a way to rationalize supporting a president whose behavior in other areas would normally turn them away — to the point where “But, Gorsuch” has become a popular meme in right-wing internet circles. Gorsuch’s move in favor of expanding LGBTQ rights throws a wrench into that calculus. Some influential religious conservative groups could decide to pull back support for Trump in his reelection bid if they don’t feel they’re getting their side of the bargain fulfilled, political analysts say.
It may be several years before the true implications of Monday’s ruling are clear. The court is likely to hear more cases about LGBTQ rights in the near future. Each case will provide an opportunity to expand upon or contradict the precedent set this week.
There is also an ongoing push in the legislative branch to widen LGBTQ rights. Democrats in the House passed a bill that would expand antidiscrimination laws to the whole country, but the bill has stalled in the Republican-led Senate.
The decision is a huge win for LGBTQ rights, regardless of what happens next
“For LGBTQ Americans, this is a watershed moment — one that’s decades overdue, and one that rivals the legalization of same-sex marriage in terms of what it means for our lives.” — John D. Sutter, CNN
The ruling could lead to a major expansion of antidiscrimination rules
“Experts say the ruling could have ramifications beyond employment — with this new Supreme Court precedent, it will be difficult to justify federal, state, and local nondiscrimination policies that include sex but exclude gender identity and sexual orientation.” — Laura Thompson, Mother Jones
The ruling could hurt Trump’s support among religious conservatives
“Legal conservatives have long justified their support for Trump by citing his success at placing like-minded jurists on the federal bench, with Gorsuch as the foremost example of their victory. Monday’s ruling suggests that the reliably conservative Supreme Court majority sought for so long by right-wing legal activists may not be quite as reliable as it seems — and that their moral and ethical sacrifices to pursue it may have been in vain.” — Matt Ford, New Republic
The ruling marks a rare victory for transgender rights
“We know that transgender people were already facing disproportionate discrimination in hiring and harassment at work, and now the Supreme Court has provided a measure of protection that will help improve the lives of trans people. However, we need to continue to fight for our communities because we know that black trans people — that trans people of color are most impacted by violence, discrimination and harassment. So there is so much more to do.” — Trans rights activist Kris Hayashi to NPR
Future cases could limit the impact of this one decision
“For most cases, the ruling should put to rest fears that led to the adage of LGBTQ people being married on one day and fired the next, but a series of other cases accepted by the Supreme Court may soon undermine the Title VII decision if the rulings come out against LGBTQ people.” — Chris Johnson, Washington Blade
The ruling breaks a trend of decisions that had been gradually rolling back LGBTQ rights
“This is a simple and profound victory for L.G.B.T. civil rights. Many of us feared that the court was poised to gut sex discrimination protections and allow employers to discriminate based on sexual orientation and gender identity, yet it declined the federal government’s invitation to take that damaging path.” — Law professor Suzanne B. Goldberg to New York Times
The case highlights the need for Congress to pass legislation protecting LGBTQ rights
“The decision followed the White House’s own rollback [of transgender protections] last week. ... The juxtaposition underscored the precarious nature of recent progress, and reinforced the need for concrete LGBTQ protections at the federal level.” — Eric Lutz, Vanity Fair
The ruling shows the limits of political pressure on Supreme Court justices
“It is a victory for the country because, in one fell swoop, the court granted vital protections to LGBTQ people in every state, making the United States a fairer, freer place. It is a victory for the court because the decision is an encouraging sign that the justices can still practice neutral and responsible jurisprudence without partisan influence.” — Mark Joseph Stern, Slate
It sets a worrying precedent for legal reasoning used by the Supreme Court
“To begin with, this is an unhealthy way to make law in a democracy. The law is now read to mean something different in 2020 from what even the most liberal Justices would have said in 1964.” — Editorial, National Review
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