Organizations that helped win protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender workers in Maine praised Monday’s watershed ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court affirming that federal law protects them from job discrimination.
The decision means that “LGBT workers across the country can rest assured that their employment will be based on their qualifications, and not on biases about who they are,” Matt Moonen, executive director of EqualityMaine and the majority leader in the Maine House of Representatives, said
Justice Neil M. Gorsuch, appointed by President Donald Trump, wrote for the majority.
“Today, we must decide whether an employer can fire someone simply for being homosexual or transgender. The answer is clear. An employer who fires an individual for being homosexual or transgender fires that person for traits or actions it would not have questioned in members of a different sex. Sex plays a necessary and undisguishable role in the decision, exactly what Title VII forbids.”
The fight for equal protection for LGBT workers here began in 1984, when EqualityMaine was founded as the state’s lesbian/gay political alliance in response to the July 1984 death of Charlie Howard, a young Bangor man who was attacked and murdered because he was gay. The organization lobbied for years to add protections for sexual orientation to the Maine Human Rights Act.
In 2005, Maine upheld a law which prohibited discrimination in employment, housing, education, credit and public accommodations on the basis of both sexual orientation and gender identity. Seven years later, Maine became the first state in which voters approved same-sex marriage.
But Moonen pointed out Monday that the decision from the nation’s highest court is not as broad as state protections passed 15 years ago.
“This decision is significant, but it applies to employment only,” Moonen said. “Unfortunately, under federal law discrimination remains legal in areas such as housing, education and public accommodations. Just last Friday, the Trump administration approved a rule removing health care protections for transgender people. So while this decision is a step in the right direction, we need leaders who will work to end discrimination at every level, not enable it.”
Mary Bonauto, civil rights project director for Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, based in Boston, linked the court’s decision to the recent calls for racial justice in light of the recent slayings by police of black people.
“And as right and welcome as this ruling is, our work is not done,” she said. “Today’s ruling arrives against the backdrop of pervasive systemic racism and racist violence, that imposes incalculable and intolerable costs on black Americans and all people of color, including those who are LGBTQ.
Bonauto, who lives in Portland, said the fight for LGBTQ justice is inseparable from the fight for racial justice.
“As we celebrate today’s decision, we must continue working with Congress, state and local officials, and all institutions and all people in this nation to ensure discrimination is off limits in every arena,” she said.
Bonauto successfully argued before the U.S. Supreme Court in 2015 that gay marriage should be legal throughout the country.
The Christian Civic League of Maine, which opposed adding sexual orientation to the Maine Human Rights Act and gay marriage in the Maine Legislature and at the ballot box, said it strongly disagreed with the majority opinion.
“While we appreciate Justice Gorsuch’s reference to religious institutional exceptions, this decision to redefine ‘sex’ to mean ‘gender identity’ is a threat to equal opportunity for women, employer rights, and religious freedom,” said Carroll Conley, executive director for the organization.