Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, there won’t be a Pride Parade in Portland this weekend. Congress Street won’t be lined with thousands of people, cheering elaborate floats or helping to unfurl a giant rainbow flag.

But there will still be something to celebrate, thanks to a sweeping Supreme Court decision that finally extends workplace protections to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

People with the Human Rights Campaign hold up “equality flags” during an event on Capitol Hill in Washington in 2017.

In a 6-3 ruling, the court found that people cannot be denied a job or fired just because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. According to the ruling, the ban on discrimination based on sex in the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects these workers because they cannot be singled out for disparate treatment without first considering their sex. If you wouldn’t fire a man for having a picture of his wife on display, you can’t fire a woman because she has a picture of her wife.

“An employer who fires an individual for being homosexual or transgender fires that person for traits or actions it would not have questioned in members of a different sex,” Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote for the court. “Sex plays a necessary and undisguisable role in the decision, exactly what Title VII (of the Civil Rights Act) forbids.”

This represents a major step forward in the campaign for human rights for LGBT people. Since 2015, same-sex couples have had the legal right to marry in all 50 states, but in most of those states, those same couples did not have discrimination protection at work. This ruling ends the “married Sunday, fired Monday” trap that millions of Americans have faced since marriage equality became the law of the land. Maine has included sexual orientation in its civil rights protections since 2005, but now Maine workers know that they will keep those protections if they have to move for work.

This ruling is consistent with a line of Supreme Court cases that have expanded protections for LGBT people, dating to the Lawrence v. Texas decision in 2003, which struck down state anti-sodomy laws. It culminated in 2015 with Obergefell v. Hodges, which found that the equal protection clause in the 14th Amendment required states to recognize same-sex marriage. But this decision is different from the ones that came before, because this one was not authored by Justice Anthony Kennedy. Although reliably conservative on most issues, Kennedy provided a decisive swing vote on LGBT and abortion-rights issues. We were concerned that his retirement in 2018 would signal an era of backlash. That this opinion was authored by a conservative like Gorsuch and joined by Chief Justice John Roberts shows the durability of the gains made by the LGBT rights movement.

But more importantly, this decision is the product of a half-century of activism that has transformed the ways that the majority of Americans think about sexual orientation and gender identity. It was the work of the brave people in the streets who challenged not only their government, but also their families, religious institutions and communities to view them as fully human and deserving of the same rights and freedoms that are supposed to be guaranteed to all. That activism still needs to continue because in most states, it remains legal to discriminate outside the workplace in areas such as housing and public accommodations.

It’s too bad there won’t be a parade in Portland on Saturday, because there’s a lot to celebrate. And there are a lot of reasons to keep marching.


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