The Supreme Court will hear arguments this week on a series of cases that could expand protections against job discrimination on the basis of sex, codified by the Civil Rights Act of 1964, to include sexual orientation and gender identity.
Stephen Vider, assistant professor of history at Cornell University and author of the forthcoming book The Queerness of Home: Gender, Sexuality, and the Politics of Domesticity After World War II, says that the upcoming employment discrimination cases represent a critical shift in LGBTQ+ law.
“The three employment discrimination cases coming to the Supreme Court this week are vitally important, not only because of their potential to protect LGBTQ+ people in the workplace but as a litmus test and potential precedent for future LGBTQ+ rights cases.
“The cases up for oral arguments this week represent a key shift in strategy away from privacy and sexual intimacy and toward focusing on the right to work. We can understand this as part of a critical shift in LGBTQ+ law away from private life to public life, in the form of labor and commerce. That is in line with the Masterpiece Cakeshop case from 2018, which centered on whether businesses had a right to turn away LGBTQ+ customers based on religious beliefs.
“It’s critical that the Masterpiece case, and the cases this week, look back to the civil rights legacies of the 1960s. The underlying question here is an ongoing one about whether the kinds of civil rights protections put in place in the 1960s should be extended to LGBTQ+ people—that is whether LGBTQ+ people should be seen and treated as full members of their communities, and whether they deserve the protection of the government to ensure that they are.”