sexual orientation

When the lines are long and the protesters loud, predicting the path the Supreme Court might take is a perilous practice. Especially if the Justice who voted most in the majority last term—Justice Kavanaugh—is nearly silent.

And yet…when the lawyer arguing that gender identity is covered under Title VII, David Cole, spends most of him time explaining how the case the Court will decide after he wins should be decided—it is hard to suspect his hasn’t already won.

After refusing to accept or reject petitions for months the Supreme Court has finally agreed to decide whether employers violate Title VII when they discriminate against employees on the basis of sexual orientation or transgender status. Among other things, Title VII prohibits discrimination “because of . . . sex.” 

Until 2017 all federal courts of appeals to consider the question had held Title VII does not protect employees on the basis of sexual orientation. This changed when the Seventh Circuit reversed itself in Hively v. Ivey Tech Community College concluding “discrimination of the basis of sexual orientation is a form of sex discrimination.”

In a 7-2 decision in Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission the Supreme Court reversed a ruling against the owner of a cake shop who refused to create a wedding cake for a same-sex couple because of his religious beliefs. The Court concluded the cake maker was entitled to but did not experience a “neutral decisionmaker who [gave] full and fair consideration to his religious objection.” The State and Local Legal Center (SLLC) filed an amicus brief in this case supporting Colorado.

Charlie Craig and Dave Mullins filed a complaint against Masterpiece Cakeshop claiming it violated Colorado's public accommodations law, which prohibits discrimination in public accommodations on the basis of sexual orientation, when it refused to create a wedding cake for them. The cake shop owner Jack Phillips explained:  “to create a wedding cake for an event that celebrates something that directly goes against the teachings of the Bible, would have been a personal endorsement and participation in the ceremony and relationship that they were entering into.”