President Donald Trump speaks to the media before departing from the White House on August 21, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
The Trump administration has filed a legal brief arguing that it is legal for employers to discriminate based on sexual orientation.
The Department of Justice filed an Supreme Court amicus brief on Friday (August 23), urging the justices to reject suggestions that federal discrimination laws protect gay people.
The court is set to consider the cases of Donald Zarda and Gerald Bostock, who were fired from their respective jobs as a skydiving instructor and a child welfare services coordinator because of their sexuality.
Lower courts have ruled that Zarda and Bostock are protected by Civil Rights Act provisions barring discrimination “on the basis of sex,” but the Trump administration is urging the Supreme Court to overturn that ruling.
Trump administration: Discrimination laws don’t stop employers firing people for being gay
The brief asserts: “[The] prohibition on discrimination because of sex does not bar discrimination because of sexual orientation. The ordinary meaning of ‘sex’ is biologically male or female; it does not include sexual orientation.”
It argues: “An employer who discriminates against employees in same-sex relationships thus does not violate Title VII [sex discrimination rules] as long as it treats men in same-sex relationships the same as women in same-sex relationships.”
The legal brief, authored by Trump’s solicitor general Noel Francisco, also notes that Congress has “declined to enact” bills to explicitly outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation.
The Equality Act, a comprehensive LGBT non-discrimination bill, was passed through the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives in May, but the Senate’s Republican leadership have refused to put the bill to a vote.
Department of Justice also targets transgender discrimination protections
The Trump administration’s action comes on the heels of another amicus brief from the Department of Justice, which urges the Supreme Court to find that it is legal to fire people for being transgender.
That case concerns Aimee Stephens, who worked at Harris Funeral Homes in Michigan for seven years before getting sacked when she came out as transgender.
In a statement, GLAAD said: “This is the Trump Administration’s 124th attack on LGBTQ people since taking office.”
The three cases, Zarda, Bostock, and Harris Funeral Homes, will be heard together by the Supreme Court.
Although LGBT+ rights campaigners have previously claimed major victories at the Supreme Court on equal marriage, Donald Trump’s appointment of ultra-conservative justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh has effectively eliminated consensus in favour of LGBT+ rights on the court.