Supreme Court may expand federal anti-discrimination laws to protect gays, lesbians

Our nation’s highest court soon will decide whether the federal law that bans discrimination based on “sex” should cover sexual preferences, not just a person’s born gender.

DEAR DAVE: You said in a recent column that the federal Fair Housing Act does not protect gay and bisexual people from housing discrimination. But because the act specifically bans discrimination based on sex, wouldn’t that include a person’s sexual preferences?

ANSWER: No, but that could soon change. Twenty-two states have laws that specifically ban discrimination based on sexual orientation, but federal anti-discrimination laws do not protect lesbian, gay or transgender Americans. Groups representing the LGBTQ community have long been pushing Congress for such protection — especially in the workplace — but also in housing-related areas and other facets of everyday life. In a key move a few weeks ago, the nine justices of the U.S. Supreme Court said they would rule on whether the provision of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that forbids employment discrimination based on sex also prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

The Civil Rights Act was used as the cornerstone of the Federal Housing Act four years later. Although the Supreme Court’s decision will initially impact only the job market, most legal scholars say it will soon trickle down to the housing industry and other areas. Many LGBTQ groups and their supporters, including the American Civil Liberties Union, say that people in the LGBTQ community should also have federally protected rights based on sexual orientation and gender. They are pushing for a nationwide law, much like those that currently ban discrimination based on a person’s color or religion, to protect them as well.

Opponents of such a law say that it would clog the court system with new lawsuits. They also claim that the term “sex” was included in the original bill simply to prevent women from being denied a job, promotion or a pay hike because they were female. Some opponents of expanding federal protection also worry that it could eventually put home sellers, lenders and landlords in the difficult position of asking about a person’s sexual preferences.

Regardless of the answer, they could open themselves up to an unfounded civil lawsuit and could even go to jail. The Supreme Court is expected to announce its decision early next year.

By David W. Myers

Sarasota Herald-Tribune