City council members in municipalities across southern West Virginia who passed nondiscrimination ordinances to extend civil rights protections to members of the LGBTQ community can rest comfortably and walk more confidently knowing that they were on the right side of history as confirmed earlier this month by the highest court in the land.
We applauded our local council women and men and mayors in Lewisburg, Thurmond and Beckley when they found the pluck and valor to pass protections when they did, and we cheer the high court now.
The United States Supreme Court – a conservative one at that – ruled that the language of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits sex discrimination, applies to discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
In short, gay and transgender workers are now protected from workplace discrimination.
“An employer who fires an individual merely for being gay or transgender defies the law,” Justice Neil M. Gorsuch, a President Trump appointee, wrote for the majority in the stunning 6-to-3 ruling. The opinion, accompanied by two dissents, consumed 168 pages and addressed a host of culture war bonfires that have been burning all around the LGBTQ discussion of equal protections including bathrooms and locker rooms, pronouns and sports, and – a tired old horse – religious objections to same-sex marriage.
The ruling – late to the monumental societal shift taking place in the United States – is welcome and, again, late to the party.
Progress, after all, is slow in this old democracy of ours, and often cruel. Until the decision, it was legal in more than half of the states to fire workers for being gay, bisexual or transgender. Yes, in the United States, well into the 21st century, an employee who married a same-sex partner in the morning could be fired that afternoon for being gay.
The decision resonates in Beckley where the recent elections left question marks as to whether its ordinance would be challenged. This is not an immaterial concern in the days ahead as the local ordinance also addresses housing discrimination – which the high court ruling does not.
But it is clear which direction the country is headed in these matters, and it would give a bruising look to any city that jammed the brakes to make a U-turn. It is refreshing that justices – six of them – kept moving toward a future that had been promised long ago by our Constitution.
Hopefully, there will be few if any detours along the road to progress because as we have seen on American streets in cities large and small these past several weeks, there remains much to be fixed on the civil rights front.
To say without a hint of irony that we all stand equal in the eyes of American justice is a gross miscalculation of where we are.
Here in West Virginia, it is unfortunate that Gov. Jim Justice and Attorney General Patrick Morrissey did not share in the celebration of the court’s ruling. While they both were quick to issue press releases touting a different court judgment the same day – the Atlantic Coast pipeline decision – both were quiet as church mice when it came to a major concern of citizens they were elected to protect.
Surprised? No. The two are unabashed supporters of the president, and the Trump administration has pushed the court to rule against gay and transgender workers.
Also, it has barred most transgender people from serving in the military.
But we think history will take note of that narrow-mindedness, too.
For now, our admiration goes out to members of the LGBTQ community who have endured hatred, violence and discrimination in their lives only to gather themselves to stake a rightful claim to their part of the American story. So, too, for those courageous council members and mayors who resisted heated and, at times, detestable voices of opposition to do what was right.
That is rarely easy, but always valiant. The history books will so note.
— The Register-Herald