A new ruling by a top court in the United States means that Muslim and other religious organisations which discriminate against workers because they are gay are now breaking the law.
In a major win for LGBT workers and their allies, the Supreme Court ruled yesterday that employers who fire workers for being gay or transgender are breaking the country’s civil rights laws.
The Supreme Court said federal law, which prohibits discrimination based on sex, should be understood to include sexual orientation and gender identity.
This effectively bars employers from discriminating against workers based on sexual orientation or transgender status, and could pose major problems for religious organisations which believe homosexuality is a sin.
The ruling resolved three cases brought by people who said they had been fired after their employers learned they were gay or transgender.
Lawyers for the employers had argued that the authors of the 1964 Civil Rights Act had not intended it to apply to cases involving sexual orientation and gender identity. The Trump administration sided with that argument.
But Judge Neil Gorsuch said acting against an employee on those grounds necessarily takes sex into account.
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“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,” he wrote.
“There is simply no escaping the role intent plays here: Just as sex is necessarily a but-for cause when an employer discriminates against homosexual or transgender employees, an employer who discriminates on these grounds inescapably intends to rely on sex in its decision making,” his opinion added.
LGBT advocates hailed the decision as the end of people hiding their sexuality at work, and one of the court’s most significant rulings ever with respect to the civil rights of gay and transgender individuals.
And analysts said the ruling would inevitably open the door to a host of other discrimination challenges on the basis of sexual orientation or transgender status.
Muslim organisations have yet to comment on the ruling but many conservative Christian groups expressed widespread concern that it could affect how they operate their own institutions.
Many faith-based organisations currently do not allow L.G.B.T. people to work there, citing religious beliefs that sex should only be between a man and a woman who are married.
“No question it is going to make it harder to defend our religious freedom, as far as an organisation being able to hire people of like mind,” said Franklin Graham, who leads Samaritan’s Purse, a large evangelical relief group. “I find this to be a very sad day,” he said. “I don’t know how this is going to protect us.”
The Association of Christian Schools International said it is reviewing the implications of the case, and reiterated its position that sexual activity must only be between a man and a woman who are married.
The group’s president, Larry Taylor, said that “the impact on the hiring policies of religious institutions that teach the biblical view of marriage” and that “uphold a standard of conduct consistent with our faith” is “not yet fully understood.”
And Archbishop José H. Gomez, the president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference, said in a statement: “I am deeply concerned that the U.S. Supreme Court has effectively redefined the legal meaning of ‘sex’ in our nation’s civil rights law… This is an injustice that will have implications in many areas of life… Protecting our neighbours from unjust discrimination does not require redefining human nature.”
The LGBTQ community is made of up of approximately one million workers who identify as transgender and 7.1 million lesbian, gay and bisexual workers, according to UCLA’s Williams Institute.
LGBT rights have seen a number of advances since President Clinton defined marriage as union between “one man and one woman” in 1996.
In June 2003 the U.S. Supreme Court determined sodomy laws to be unconstitutional; in 2009 President Obama expanded hate crime laws to include sexual orientation; and in 2015 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that same-sex marriage was legal across the country.