The Supreme Court of the United States ruled, in a 6-3 decision on Monday, that gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender individuals were protected by the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote the opinion that was joined in consent by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.
The decision interpreted Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits workplace discrimination on the grounds of race, religion, national origin and sex. The major question that the justices sought to answer was whether that last category—sex—also included employees who identify as LGBT.
Monday’s decision concerns two civil cases before the Court, Bostock v. Clayton County, and Altitude Express, Inc. v. Zarda. In the first case, a pair of gay men sued their employers for terminating them on the grounds of their sexual orientation. In the latter case, a trans-identifying plaintiff sued her employer for firing her after coming out in the office.
Lawyers representing the employers in both cases as well as the Trump Administration, argued that the terminations were legal under the statutes of the Civil Rights Act, citing that the definition of “sex,” as intended by the law’s authors, specifically referred to biological gender, and not sexual orientation or gender expression. The defense argued that Congress had the power to amend the law to include protections based on sexual orientation or gender expression, but those classifications were not at present covered by the law.
The plaintiff’s legal team, conversely, argued that discrimination against employees based on sexual orientation or gender expression must, as a matter of logic, take account of sex.
Monday’s decision was the Supreme Court’s first in regard to LGBT rights since the retirement of Justice Anthony Kennedy in 2018. Many predicted that Kennedy’s departure, and his replacement by Trump-appointed Justice Brett Kavanaugh, would trigger a dramatic shift in ideological balance on the nation’s highest court, resulting in a rise of conservative-leaning decisions. But this decision stands against that assumption and, according to CNN’s Jeffrey Toobin, it goes against most of the rulings on this subject that have come from the lower courts.