In 1964, gay Americans were so little visible that the United States Congress, intent on passing the landmark Civil Rights Act, probably never considered that discrimination on the basis of sex would make illegal the actions that the Supreme Court banned on Monday.
The 6-3 ruling will be debated among legal scholars, but for most of our country it is likely to be greeted with a shrug. Times have changed.
“Few facts are needed to appreciate the legal question we face,” wrote Justice Neil Gorsuch for the majority. "Each of the three cases before us started the same way: An employer fired a longtime employee shortly after the employee revealed that he or she is homosexual or transgender — and allegedly for no reason other than the employee’s homosexuality or transgender status.”
From the 1964 law, the court found that discrimination ensued because of the plaintiffs’ sex and should be covered. “Sex plays a necessary and undisguisable role in the decision, exactly what Title VII forbids,” wrote Gorsuch, an appointee of President Donald Trump.
The old saying is that the court reads election returns. In this case, the court was reading the plain common sense of the American people in their evolving and expanding belief in fairness.
Justice Brett Kavanaugh dissented, but even he noted that to be relieved of the burdens of being fired or demoted because one is gay or transgender is a positive step for millions in our society.
Indeed, it is.
And it should not have taken federal court cases to achieve this result. In two cities in Louisiana, New Orleans and Shreveport, anti-gay discrimination has already been the target of law but our state as a whole — despite bipartisan efforts for change in past years in the Legislature — has been clinging to 19th-century bigotries.
In Baton Rouge, the Metro Council has several times blocked obviously necessary “fairness ordinances” that this newspaper supported for many years in concert with business leadership of the region.
Perhaps, in a perfect world, the national legislature would have stepped in much earlier to make clear — or clearer — the application of the Civil Rights Act to acts of discrimination against LGBT citizens. However, America is a land of many parts, and large numbers of people were already protected by state or local laws; the court’s ruling clarifies that those protections should be national in scope because of the explicit wording of the Civil Rights Act.
This is not “totalitarianism” of an "activist" court, as suggested by the anti-gay Louisiana Family Forum. The court acted in accord with the specific facts of cases, a specific law, and the broader aspirations of a fairer society based on life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.