Oftentimes, the wheels of justice turn too slow. Such was the case for victims and potential victims of discrimination based on sexual orientation.
The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday delivered a long-sought triumph for LGBT workers, ruling that the 1964 Civil Rights Act protects them from workplace discrimination.
The 6-3 ruling means that all LGBT Americans now enjoy the same workplace protections that Illinois residents have had since 2005, when the Legislature passed a law prohibiting sexual-orientation discrimination in employment, public accommodations and housing.
But even that expansion of rights in Illinois, 15 years ago, came too slowly for many of the state’s citizens. Thirty years earlier in Urbana, the city council passed a landmark human-rights ordinance that prohibited employment discrimination. It was only the law, however, in Urbana.
So it took 45 years for all LGBT residents of Indiana, Missouri, Michigan, Kentucky and 25 other states to be able to grasp that same important employment protection.
“An employer who fires an individual for being gay or transgender defies the law,” Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote for the majority in the decision that gives workplace and emotional relief to millions of Americans.
Gorsuch noted that those who voted for the 1964 civil-rights law could not have anticipated their work so many years ago would bear this consequence.
“But the limits of the drafters’ imagination supply no reason to ignore the law’s demands. When the express terms of a statute give us one answer and the extratextual considerations suggest another, it’s no contest,” wrote Gorsuch. “Only the written word is the law, and all persons are entitled to its benefit.”
That law, and the equal-protection clause in the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, guarantees it in writing.
Sometimes, though, the wait for judicial interpretation is long and trying.