U.S. Jewish Groups Celebrate Supreme Court Ruling Advancing LGBTQ Workers' Rights

'Judaism teaches that we are all made in the image of the Divine, deserving of dignity and just treatment. It is our responsibility to ensure that we live up to that ideal'

Amir Tibon
Amir Tibon
Washington
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Joseph Fons holding a Pride Flag in front of the U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C., U.S., June 15, 2020.
Joseph Fons holding a Pride Flag in front of the U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C., U.S., June 15, 2020. Credit: REUTERS/Tom Brenner
Amir Tibon
Amir Tibon
Washington

WASHINGTON — American Jewish organizations celebrated the U.S. Supreme Court’s Monday ruling that a landmark federal law forbidding workplace discrimination protects gay and transgender employees. 

The court’s decision, which was accepted by the four liberal justices and two conservative justices – Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Neil Gorsuch, who was appointed by President Donald Trump in 2017 – was also hailed by LGBTQ rights groups as a major achievement in their fight for equality.

The Reform Movement released a statement praising the decision. Rabbi Jonah Pesner, director of the movement’s Religious Action Center, said that “even as the Trump administration took steps over the weekend to harm LGBTQ people by rolling back civil rights protections in the Affordable Care Act, today’s Supreme Court decision makes clear that those who promote or allow such discrimination are on the wrong side of history.”

Pesner added that “Judaism teaches that we are all made in the image of the Divine, deserving of dignity and just treatment. It is our responsibility to ensure that we live up to that ideal. The U.S. government has previously failed to adequately protect vulnerable members of the LGBTQ community. We are hopeful that this landmark decision represents a new chapter of tolerance, acceptance, and justice.”

The 6-3 ruling represented the biggest moment for LGBTQ rights in the U.S. since the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage nationwide in 2015. In the new ruling, the justices decided that gay and transgender people are protected under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which bars employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of sex as well as race, color, national origin and religion

The CEO of the National Council of Jewish Women, Sheila Katz, released a statement saying that “today’s victory is thanks to the bravery and perseverance of transgender individuals including ACLU lawyer Chase Strangio, who argued the case, and Aimee Stephens, who brought the suit after she was discriminated against at work. While Stephens is not alive today to see this win, her memory will be uplifted with the generations of queer and Trans Americans who will be protected under law.”

Keshet, an organization that “works for the full equality of LGBTQ Jews”, wrote on Twitter in response to the decision: “Today the Supreme Court affirmed what we already know, LGBTQ people deserve to be protected.” The organization also quoted from the majority opinion, which was written by Gorsuch: “Today, we must decide whether an employer can fire someone simply for being homosexual or transgender. The answer is clear.”

Katy Joseph, the Director of Policy at the Interfaith Alliance, an organization that promotes cooperation between religious leaders from different faiths, also praised the decision: “Too often employers overstep the boundaries of personal religious freedom – the right to believe as we choose – to impose their beliefs on others through staffing decisions and workplace culture. Turning away LGBTQ+ job applicants and employees, or terminating their employment due to their identity, isn’t religious freedom – it's discrimination.”

Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, added on Twitter: “No better way to observe Pride month than today’s dramatic Supreme Court ruling that a landmark civil rights law protects LGBTQ workers from workplace discrimination. 6-3 with Justice Gorsuch writing the majority opinion, I imagine that the Holy One is also relieved."

Workplace bias against gay and transgender employees has remained legal in much of the country, with 28 U.S. states lacking comprehensive measures against employment discrimination. 

The legal fight focused on the definition of "sex" in Title VII. The plaintiffs, along with civil rights groups and many large companies, had argued that discriminating against gay and transgender workers was inherently based on their sex and consequently was illegal.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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