“We shall overcome because the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice,” Martin Luther King Jr. said during a 1968 speech.
It may be an overused phrase, but it is an apt description of events on Monday as the U.S. Supreme Court issued a historic ruling guaranteeing the rights of LGBTQ Americans in the workplace. The ruling came just days after the Trump administration issued a misguided rule that takes health care protections away from transgender Americans.
“Our civil rights laws are intended to help our country live up to its promises of equality, and today’s decision from the Supreme Court brings us another step closer to that promise,” GLAD Civil Rights Project Director Mary Bonauto of Portland said in a statement Monday about the court ruling.
“And as right and welcome as this ruling is, our work is not done,” she added.
Let’s start with the good news.
The nation’s highest court ruled Monday that LGBTQ Americans cannot be fired from their jobs based on their gender identity or sexual orientation. The 6-3 ruling was a rebuke to the Trump administration, which had joined the case and argued that federal civil rights protections applied only to a person’s “sex” and, therefore, did not protect the workplace rights of gay, lesbian and transgender Americans.
The ruling covered three cases. In one, Gerald Bostock, a county employee in Georgia, was fired after he played in a gay recreational softball league. In another, Donald Zarda, a skydiving instructor in New York, was fired days after mentioning he was gay. In the third case, Aimee Stephens, who was diagnosed with gender dysphoria, was fired from a Michigan funeral home after notifying her employer of six years that she was going to begin living full time as a woman.
In each case, the law was clear that such firings violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the court’s majority wrote. Title VII prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin.
The majority opinion, written by Justice Neil Gorsuch, says it is clear that discrimination based on a person being homosexual or transgender is discriminition based on sex.
“For an employer to discriminate against employees for being homosexual or transgender, the employer must intentionally discriminate against individual men and women in part because of sex,” Gorsuch wrote. “That has always been prohibited by Title VII’s plain terms.”
The majority opinion was joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and the court’s four liberal justices.
“Today’s landmark ruling on LGTBQ+ rights brings us a step closer to fulfilling our American value that everyone must receive equal justice under the law,” Sen. Angus King said on Twitter Monday.
Just days earlier, during Pride month, the Trump administration rolled back health care protections for transgender Americans. In announcing the rule change last week, the Department of Health and Human Services said it will enforce sex discrimination protections “according to the plain meaning of the word ‘sex’ as male or female and as determined by biology.” The Obama administration had interpreted the nondiscrimination rules, which are included in the Affordable Care Act, to include gender identity.
Although dealing with a different law, the department’s interpretation now conflicts with the Supreme Court’s interpretation of protections from discrimination and their application to LGBTQ Americans.
“The Trump Administration‘s decision to eliminate protections for transgender patients is simply wrong,” Sen. Susan Collins said on Twitter on Saturday. “I’ll work to overturn this discriminatory policy.”
It will likely take more court challenges and time that could be better spent preventing discrimination, but Collins’ pledge and Monday’s Supreme Court ruling remind us that the arc, while long, does in fact bend toward justice.