In an 8-3 ruling, the US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit on Tuesday struck a massive blow for LGBT equality when it concluded that federal civil rights law — specifically, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 — protects workers from discrimination based on sexual orientation. So, the court decided, it’s not legal in the US for an employer to discriminate against gay workers — making it the first federal appeals court to conclude that gay people are protected under existing civil rights law.
The argument: Federal civil rights laws prohibit sex discrimination, and this, based on the Seventh Circuit Court’s interpretation of the law, encompasses sexual orientation. “It would require considerable calisthenics to remove the ‘sex’ from ‘sexual orientation.’ The effort to do so has led to confusing and contradictory results,” Chief Judge Diane Wood concluded in the majority opinion.
The case related to Kimberly Hively, an openly lesbian woman who had applied for multiple positions at Ivy Tech Community College in Indiana, only to never be hired full time. She believed the rejections were related to her sexual orientation, so she filed a complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and a lawsuit — arguing this anti-gay discrimination was illegal under federal law. The Seventh Circuit Court sided with her, reversing previous decisions on the topic.
The ruling as of this time only applies to the Seventh Circuit, which is made up of Indiana, Illinois, and Wisconsin and can be overturned when/if the matter makes it to the Supreme Court.