Supreme Court Cases Challenge LGBT Rights-Religious Liberty Balancing Act

Legal experts worry that ruling in landmark workplace discrimination cases can’t provide the nuanced exemptions evangelicals have advocated for.

The United States Supreme Court was debating the meaning of the word sex on Tuesday when Chief Justice John Roberts brought up religion. He called it “that other concern”—religious liberty.

Roberts asked: How can the government protect the rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender employees in the workplace and the rights of religious groups to employ people who agree on issues of sexuality, sexual orientation, and gender identity?

Three current cases before the court all raise this question—but might not answer it. On Tuesday, the Supreme Court heard arguments in Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia; Altitude Express v. Zarda; and Harris Funeral Homes v. the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

In all three, the court is considering whether the 1964 Civil Rights Act protects LGBT people from getting fired. Title VII of the law says employers cannot dismiss people “because of sex.” The court has to decide whether sex includes sexual orientation and gender identity.

The defendants—Gerald Bostock of Georgia, Don Zarda of New York, and Aimee Stephens of Michigan—say it does.

Bostock was a child welfare services coordinator for the Clayton County, Georgia, juvenile court system, who said he was fired for his sexual orientation after his employer learned he joined a gay men’s softball league. Zarda—who died before his case got to the Supreme Court—was a skydiving instructor who lost his job after he told a female student he was gay. Stephens was a funeral director for R.G. and G.R. Harris Funeral Homes and got fired after coming out as a transgender woman. Stephens’ employer said she was in violation of the dress code, which requires men to wear suits. …

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