On July 2nd, 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy who originally had initiated the enactment of this act.
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The proclamation of this act, was the largest change to the Constitution since the reconstruction of the document. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 states that it is unconstitutional to discriminate against race, national origin, gender, and religion in both public places as well as in the workforce. This act also developed the EEOC or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commision which helped aggrieved workers file lawsuits against wrongdoing within the workforce. However, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 falls short in addressing the law when depicting someone of another sexual orientation. Although people feel as though they are losing their basic rights as stated by the Constitution, it is imperative that Title VII includes sexual orientation and gender identity as a basis of discrimination, ultimately establishing the LGBTQ community as a protected class within the workforce and daily life.
In today’s society, nearly 6.5 million workers identify as LGBTQ. Of this large group of individuals, “30% of [those] who had a job in the past year reported being fired, denied a promotion, or experiencing some other form of mistreatment related to their gender identity or expression” (James). On top of this, roughly one in ten of those who identify within the LGBTQ community have left a job due to the fact that they have been mistreated within the workforce. This is due to the fact that there is no law curbing discrimination against employees on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. In fact, members of the LGBTQ community are not “fully protected from discrimination in 30 states” (Freedom). As a result of states disregarding LGBTQ discrimination laws, the Census Bureau also does not cover the few categories of people that fall under the LGBTQ community. Thus, they do not collect vital information regarding areas of possible discrimination. This is clearly shown as homosexual men earn 11 percent less than heterosexual counterparts meanwhile, lesbians earn 9 percent more than straight women (Caruchet). These statistics represent a piece of discrimination experienced by the LGBTQ community. However, the real evidence is seen in recent cases involving wrongful termination within the workplace.
A recent case, decided in 2018, upheld the rights of a Colorado Baker to refuse to create a wedding cake for a same sex couple due to his religious affiliation. The court ruled in favor of Jack Phillips, the baker from Colorado, who cited his Christian beliefs as the basis of his refusal to create the cake. The decision of the courts to uphold Phillip’s rights ultimately brings the current social issues to light. In this particular situation, religious freedom was used to justify blatant discrimination. Those in favor of the ruling, believe that the Courts were simply reinforcing not only the rights of the business owners, but also the rights of the people as stated in the Constitution. However, Justice Anthony Kennedy’s statement regarding the decision landed him on the other side of the issue as he recognized that “our society has come to the recognition that gay persons and gay couples cannot be treated as social outcasts or as inferior in dignity and worth” (de Vogue). This decision was monumental in securing religious rights in the United States however, it also severley damaged the rights of the LGBTQ community. While religious freedom is an idea that has been long ingrained in the fundamental basis of the United States, it cannot be used as an excuse to allow discrimination. Jack Phillips opened his business to sell a service to his customers. While he has rights associated with both being and owner of a business and being able to express his religious freedom, at the end of the day he simply had a job to perform. This case solidified the idea that discrimination was appropriate under religious circumstances, a factor that seems barbaric at best. Discrimination under any other circumstances included under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, would not have been met with such support. Therefore, sexual orientation should be no different as it would protect a whole class of people. The very idea of the Civil Rights Act was to prevent discrimination on all fronts, if this was the goal, it is imperative to include those apart of the LGBTQ community.
The case of TerVeer v. Billington, decided in 2014 by a federal judge within the state of Washington, reinforced the idea of the LGBTQ community recieving protected class statues. Peter TerVeer was wrongfully terminated based on his sexual orientation as he identified as a homosexual male. TerVeer claimed that his sexual orientation was inconsistent with his former boss’ perception of the acceptable gender role for a male thus, leading to his dismissal. While Title VII of the Civil Rights Act does not explicitly state that the idea of sexual orientation cannot be used as a factor of discrimination, recent legislation has seen a push towards the contrary. TerVeer v. Billington is an explicit example of the courts upholding the rights of the LGBTQ community while also granting them protection based on their self identified sexual orientation. Under Title VII, allegations that an employer is discriminating against an employee due to his/her failure to conform to sex stereotypes is sufficient to prove discrimination based on sex. While some may argue that an employer has the right to hire and fire employees at will, based on entitled legal rights as a business owner (as shown in the previous example), these rights do not extend to the jurisdiction of discrimination. TerVeer v. Billington is a clear example of discriminatory practice in action. Peter TerVeer was fired unjustly, simply based on the fact that he was homosexual. His performance, nor his qualification was taken into account when being terminated. TerVeer v. Billington is not an isolated innocent. This type of discrimination occurs across the nation. However, if sexual orientation was added to the spectrum of discrimination, these cases would become few and far between. Until sexual orientation is added as a factor of discrimination, incidents similar to TerVeer v. Billington will continue to occur. This is simply based on the idea that there is no protection for the LGBTQ community. Without this protection, Americans who identify as LGBTQ will continue to be subjected to unfair employment practices as seen in this particular case.
Another case that ties in both of the previous examples together is the EEOC vs. Harris Family Funeral Homes case. This case depicts Aimee Stephens and the fact that she was fired based on her gender identity. The case was first brought to trial in 2014, however, it is still ongoing and is currently being heard by the U.S. Supreme Court. The funeral home argued that the the Federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act protects its decision to fire Aimee Stephens, despite the fact that the funeral home is not affiliated with any religious entity (EEOC). Therefore, it is evident the Harris Family Funeral Home is once again, using religion as an excuse to discriminate against a member of the LGBTQ community. However, this case is much different as they are lying about a religious affiliation to avoid dealing with anti-discrimination laws. The funeral home is clearly depriving Ms. Stephens of her equal protection under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, and using religion as a scapegoat for their actions. This case proves that religious affiliation should not be an excuse for allowing discrimination. While some may argue that freedom of religion is included under the First Amendment Protections, it should not be used as a vehicle to allow discrimination to occur. Members of the LGBTQ community suffer from this type of employment discrimination everyday. In this scenario there must be an equal balance of protecting freedom of religion while also protecting the LGBTQ people from discrimination. While this is a difficult battle to be fought, it is essential in establishing equal rights for these people. Furthermore, if the link between religion and discrimination continues to be ignored, it will continue to remain a problem within the United States. LGBTQ people are constantly being weighted against the protection of religion. While both of these groups are important in their own way, it is important to realize that the freedom of religion may breed future discrimination. This fact, along with many others is important to consider, as until it is changed, no equal protection will be achieved for the LGBTQ community.
Under the Obama administration, the LGBTQ community saw gender identity become included among the classes protected against discrimination under the EEOC. The former presidents actions catapulted the LGBTQ people towards equal protection under the legislative branch. Obama’s wish to advance LGBTQ civil rights also extended to the executive branch. However, the recent administration, led by President Donald Trump, has severely damaged the advancement made by Barack Obama in terms of the rights of LGBTQ individuals. In 2017, Trump reversed Obama’s policy which used Title VII to protect transgender employees from discrimination. Furthermore, 2019 saw a ban on transgender individuals serving in the U.S. military, courtesy of the Trump administration. Previously, the rights of LGBTQ individuals seemed to be on upswing. However, the recent regression of rights and anti discrimination laws have resounding effects for the community as a whole. Without proper support from not only employers, but also the executive branch, the LGBTQ community has no hope of recieving the protected statues they desperately need. At the end of the day, sexual orientation should not be a basis of discrimination. Therefore, this category should be included in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. Only then, will the LGBTQ community will get the rights that they deserve.
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