Monday’s civil rights ruling was a game-changer, said retired judge Rand Hoch, founder of the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council.
Civil rights advocates and political officials in Palm Beach County hailed Monday’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling that employers can’t fire workers because of their sexual orientation or their gender identity.
The 6-3 ruling, issued during Pride Month, is seen as a major step forward for gay, lesbian and transgender workers, who, before Monday, could legally get married on one day - and get fired because of their sexual orientation or gender identity the next.
“Justice,” U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Boca Raton, tweeted after the ruling was issued. “The freedom to marry. The freedom to work. The freedom to be LGBTQ. Happy Pride Month.”
Gaby Guadalupe of the ACLU Foundation of Florida said: “At a moment when we are witnessing so much injustice in the world, today we celebrate this court decision that clarifies for the first time that LGBTQ people are protected from employment discrimination from coast to coast, including in states and cities that have no express protection for LGBTQ people in their own laws.”
Some state and local governments, including ones in Palm Beach County, had already prohibited employers from firing workers because of their sexual orientation or their gender identity.
About 60% of Florida’s population, including the state’s biggest cities, have enacted local ordinances that ban discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Floridians at work, in housing, restaurants, hotels and other public accommodations.
Still, efforts to enact a state law that would accomplish the same goal have been frustrated annually at the state Capitol, where conservative Republicans have held control for more than 20 years.
Advocates, though, said Monday’s ruling is focused on banning discrimination in the workplace. Federal and state laws are still needed to expand civil rights laws to bar discrimination against LGBTQ people in housing, restaurants, hotels, health care and other areas.
“We still need Florida to pass comprehensive... sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination protections,” said Jon Davidson, attorney for Freedom for All Americans, an LGBTQ advocacy organization.
While advocates say more needs to be done, Monday’s ruling was a game-changer, said retired judge Rand Hoch, founder of the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council, which publicly advocates for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer rights.
“No longer will an LGBTQ worker’s rights be determined by their zip code,” Hoch said.
For Hoch and other advocates, the ruling was a long time in coming.
“Today’s Supreme Court ruling is colossal,” Hoch said. “I have waited 46 years for this day to arrive.”
The ruling, stemming from a case in Georgia, highlighted the sweeping change in public acceptance of - indeed, its demand for - LGBTQ rights.
Pride rallies, including one held this past weekend in New York, have produced massive, diverse crowds. Liberal politicians, celebrities and some businesses make clear their support for LGBTQ rights.
But many evangelical Christians oppose LGBTQ rights, and their opposition has been embraced by conservative Republicans, including those in the Trump administration.
The court’s ruling centered on an interpretation of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination “because of sex.”
Justices had to determine if that phrasing included sexual orientation and gender identity.
A trio of dissenters - Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas and Brett Kavanaugh - argued that Congress did not mean to include lesbian, gay, transgender, bisexual or queer people when they debated and passed the law.
“The Court tries to convince readers that it is merely enforcing the terms of the statute, but that is preposterous,” Alito wrote. “Even as understood today, the concept of discrimination because of ‘sex’ is different from discrimination because of ‘sexual orientation’ or ‘gender identity.’”
Six justices, including conservatives Neil Gorsuch and Chief Justice John Roberts, disagreed.
“Today, we must decide whether an employer can fire someone simply for being homosexual or transgender,” Gorsuch wrote for the majority. “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 undisguisable role in the decision, exactly what Title VII forbids.”
Gorsuch was President Trump’s first Supreme Court nominee, and his decision to side with the court’s liberals added to the stunning nature of the ruling.
Trump’s authority to nominate conservative judges - and the prospect that they would issue rulings opposing business and environmental regulations, abortion rights and LGBTQ rights - has been a fundamental aspect of traditional Republican support for Trump, who was initially viewed warily by many in the party.
But Supreme Court justices with lifetime appointments don’t always rule the way their supporters want or expect, a fact Trump and conservative Republicans were reminded of with Monday’s decision.
Judicial Watch, a conservative activist group, said the Supreme Court “undermined the rule of law today.”
“In expanding the ban of sex discrimination in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to include sexual orientation and gender identity, the court engaged in an abuse of power by legislating from the bench,” the group said in a statement. “There has been a years-long battle by left to change federal law to bar discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. But the Supreme Court today short-circuited the democratic process and rewrote the law without a vote of Congress but by a vote of six unelected judges.”
U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel, D-West Palm Beach, said the ruling was about extending workplace protections to LGBTQ Americans that have been enjoyed by other citizens.
“No one should live in fear of losing their job because of who they love or who they are,” Frankel said.
USA TODAY-Florida Network Capital Bureau staff writer John Kennedy contributed to this report.
The Palm Beach County Human Rights Council, Inc. is dedicated to ending discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression. The Council promotes equality, through education, advocacy, direct action, impact litigation, and community outreach.