The US Supreme Court is wading into a major LGBT rights dispute over whether a landmark decades old federal law that prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of sex covers gay and transgender workers.
A day after kicking off their new nine-month term in Washington, the court’s justices are set to hear two hours of arguments in three related cases. LGBT rights activists held a demonstration near the court ahead of the scheduled start of the arguments at 10am local time.
The Supreme Court delivered an important gay rights decision in 2015 legalising same-sex marriage nationwide.
Its dynamics on LGBT issues, however, changed following retirement of Justice Anthony Kennedy, a conservative who backed gay rights in major cases and who wrote the same-sex marriage ruling.
At issue is whether gay and transgender people are protected under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which forbids employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of sex as well as race, colour, national origin and religion.
The legal fight focuses on the definition of “sex” in Title VII. The plaintiffs, along with civil rights groups and many large companies, have argued that discriminating against gay and transgender workers is inherently based on their sex and consequently is illegal.
A couple of hundred demonstrators advocating for LGBT rights gathered a short distance from the white marble court on an overcast day in the US capital.
They chanted for equal rights and held signs including ones that read “Do fire Trump. Don’t fire LGBTQ workers“; “Discrimination is bad for business”; and “LGBT Americans power our economy”.
Police moved demonstrators away from the plaza in front of the court due to concern over “suspicious” packages.
“I am here because I’m a queer person and right now my right to live my life as everyone else is being determined by nine people, none of whom are queer, all of whom are cisgender,” said Washington resident Raegan Davis, 21.
“I feel like it’s important for our voices to be part of this conversation because if we aren’t here there’s no guarantee that they will.”
A small group of demonstrators opposing gay and transgender rights was also present and holding signs including two that read “Fear God” and “Sin and shame, not pride”.
“This has to stop. The more and more we give to the homosexual community, the more and more this nation is going to be destroyed,” said Jacob Phelps, 36, of Topeka, Kansas, who held a sign that read, “Jesus will return in wrath”. He added, “It’s very easy in the workplace, shut your mouth, do what you’re supposed to do.”