Federal Civil Rights Law Protects Gay Employees, Appeals Court Rules

"We conclude today that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is a form of sex discrimination.”

WASHINGTON ― A provision of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 banning gender-based discrimination also protects gay and lesbian employees, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit ruled Tuesday. It marked the first time a full federal appeals court had reached that conclusion.

The ruling stated that Title VII, which protects against discrimination based on gender, also applied to discrimination based on sexual orientation. Eight of the 11 appeals court judges who considered the case were appointed by Republican presidents, according to the Associated Press.

The opinion stated that it was “neither here nor there that the Congress that enacted the Civil Rights Act in 1964 and chose to include sex as a prohibited basis for employment discrimination (no matter why it did so) may not have realized or understood the full scope of the words it chose.” The majority opinion added that members of the 88th Congress of 1964 may have been “surprised” by decisions in later years that found that the law prohibited sexual harassment in the workplace and discrimination based on a person’s failure to conform to gender stereotypes.

But the logic of recent Supreme Court decisions on gay rights led the majority to their conclusion. They wrote that the decision must be understood against the backdrop of Supreme Court decisions on both employment discrimination and sexual orientation discrimination.

“The logic of the Supreme Court’s decisions, as well as the common-sense reality that it is actually impossible to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation without discriminating on the basis of sex, persuade us that the time has come to overrule our previous cases that have endeavored to find and observe that line,” the opinion stated.

“For many years, the courts of appeals of this country understood the prohibition against sex discrimination to exclude discrimination on the basis of a person’s sexual orientation. The Supreme Court, however, has never spoken to that question,” the majority wrote. “In this case, we have been asked to take a fresh look at our position in light of developments at the Supreme Court extending over two decades. We have done so, and we conclude today that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is a form of sex discrimination.”

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