One of the major frontiers in the fight for equality for people of all sexual orientations has been the battle for marriage equality. The United States Supreme Court has now finally ruled that same-sex couples have the same marriage rights nationwide as their opposite-sex counterparts. Unfortunately, this is far from the end of the fight. Discrimination based on sexual orientation is still extremely common in the workplace, and in much of the country it is still completely legal.
(Photo Credit: Purple Sherbet Photography/Flickr)
There Is No Federal Law Banning Sexual Orientation Discrimination in the Workplace
Federal laws prohibit most employers from discriminating based on things like race, sex, religion, disability, old age, military service, and perhaps even gender identity. But there is not a federal law that prohibits employment discrimination based on sexual orientation.
The Los Angeles Times recently reported on the case of a fourth-grade science teacher who was fired in Kentucky for being a lesbian. She was married (in a state outside of Kentucky) and she told the principal at her school that she planned to get pregnant and raise a child with her partner. The school fired her because officials feared there would be a backlash if parents found out about the teacher’s sexual orientation. She tried to sue over this discrimination but she learned that nothing in federal or Kentucky state law protected her.
One could argue that the Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution should provide some protection. That clause is part of the reason why the Supreme Court held that same-sex couples have the same right to marry as opposite-sex couples. However, there is a difference. The Court relied in large part on its prior holdings, that marriage is a fundamental right, in making its marriage decision. There is not a similar history of considering the right to employment to be a fundamental right. This is part of the reason why specific anti-discrimination laws have been required to protect employment rights for people discriminated against because of things like race, sex, and disability.
Some States Do Offer Protections
The District of Columbia and 22 states have passed laws against employment discrimination based on sexual orientation. Some municipalities have also passed local ordinances. State with these laws include:
13. New Hampshire
14. New Jersey
15. New Mexico
16. New York
18. Rhode Island
Tell Us What You Think
Do you know someone who lost his or her job due to being gay, lesbian, or bisexual? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.