The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments Tuesday in three cases that could set important precedents about whether federal civil rights protections on the basis of sex also guarantee legal protections on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation.
The three cases involve people who claim to have been fired because they are gay or identify as transgender. Two are gay men and the other is a man who identifies as a woman.
The two gay men argue that they were fired due to their sexual orientation. However, decisions were split at the U.S. Court of Appeals as to whether firing on the basis of sexual orientation violated the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The other case, Harris Funeral Homes v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, involves a Christian funeral home operator in Michigan that terminated an employee who refused to wear clothing that corresponded with the employee’s biological sex.
Harris Funeral Homes was later sued by the EEOC based on the claim that the company engaged in sex discrimination under Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals sided with Stephens, who is represented at the Supreme Court by the American Civil Liberties Union. Meanwhile, R.G. & G.R. Funeral Homes is represented by the Alliance Defending Freedom.
The funeral home case represents the first high court case on transgender rights.
The nine justices heard hours of arguments Tuesday and debated along political lines. Supporters of both sides rallied outside the Supreme Court building on First Street.
According to Reuters, the court’s four liberal justices seemed to agree with arguments presented by the plaintiffs that sex discrimination protections should be extended on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
Meanwhile, the court’s five conservative justices seemed to be more skeptical.
Justice Neil Gorsuch, President Donald Trump’s first Supreme Court appointee, appeared to play both sides of the issues throughout the day. He was seemingly more open to the plaintiffs’ arguments than other conservative justices.
Gorsuch did, however, question the “judicial role and modesty in interpreting statutes that are old.”
“The question is about judicial interpretation,” Gorsuch said.
But Gorsuch suggested that the “textual evidence” for extending discrimination protection to Stephens is “really close.”
“We’re not talking about extra-textual stuff,” Gorsuch said, according to the court transcript. “We’re talking about the text. It’s close. The judge finds it very close.”
ACLU lawyer David Cole responded by saying that his side is not asking the court to “apply any meaning of sex other than the one that everybody agrees on as of 1964, which is sex assigned at birth.”
“We’re not asking you to rewrite it,” Cole explained.
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SOURCE: Christian Post, Samuel Smith