It may surprise many of our readers but, astonishingly, it is still legal to fire someone because he is gay in much of the United States — including Ohio and Michigan.
A federal appeals court in Chicago recently interpreted the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to state that sex discrimination now includes sexual orientation discrimination. That ruling applies in Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin. Many states on the coasts have state laws that protect Gays and Lesbians from being fired, but no federal law does.
A New York federal appeals court is considering the same issue as the Chicago court, and, not surprisingly, the Trump Administration has taken the position that if Congress wants to change the law to protect gays, it should do so, but the Administration claims judges should not decide to interpret the law differently. That position is consistent with the traditional conservative approach to the role of judges in interpreting statutes.
What is surreal about this is that probably eighty present of the population would support extending employment law protections to gays. A clear majority of the country now supports the gay marriage ruling by the Supreme Court, which historically was a much more controversial and less popular position than the right of gays not to be fired.
Why haven’t Congress and state legislatures moved to protect Gays and Lesbians? Ironically, in many states, Democrats have held up legislation because Republicans refuse to extend the laws to apply to transgender people. And the truth is, Gay Rights in employment is hardly a Republican priority. So here we are. The culture has changed: it is simply socially unacceptable to fire someone for being gay, but the law is stuck in the last century.
So will the Courts act? I think so. If the Supreme Court saw fit to find Gay marriage a constitutional right, then I believe they will find a way to extend sex discrimination laws to Gays and Lesbians. And that is what judges are paid to do– to interpret an important historical law consistent with a modern, thoughtful understanding of the words and social concepts in the law.
Read the New York Times article, “Justice Department Says Rights Law Doesn’t Protect Gays”, July 27, 2017