Local elected officials and LGBTQ leaders said Monday’s US Supreme Court ruling protecting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer Americans from workplace discrimination was a landmark decision that guarantees people all over the country the same employment protections that exist in Massachusetts.
Bay State residents have enjoyed similar protections since the state passed a 1989 civil rights law.
But any LGBTQ person moving to a state without such a law faced the possibility of losing their job, said Arline Isaacson, cochairwoman of the Massachusetts Gay and Lesbian Political Caucus.
“They could marry on Sunday and be fired on Monday . . . for being married to a same-sex partner,” said Isaacson, who championed the 1989 law. “That’s preposterous on its face, and now finally, it’s changing.”
Legal protections in the workplace are perhaps even more significant than marriage, Isaacson said, because not everyone will marry, but most people must work.
"This is extraordinarily important to all of our people — and our families, who want us to have jobs and earn a living,” she said, while stressing that there is “still work to do.”
“We need to pass the Equality Act, which would make it illegal to discriminate against us in other areas, like housing, and credit, and public services,” Isaacson said, citing areas covered by the 1989 Massachusetts law.
The federal Equality Act, which the Democratic-led House of Representatives passed more than a year ago but the Republican-dominated Senate has not voted upon, would formally add sexual orientation and gender identity to the characteristics protected by the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the law that formed the basis for Monday’s ruling.
“There definitely needs to be more comprehensive nondiscrimination protections at the federal level,” said Tre’Andre Valentine, executive director of the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition.
Valentine pointed to the Trump administration’s announcement Friday that it had finalized a rule rolling back Obama-era protections for transgender people against discrimination in health care.
“There needs to be a culture shift in the way people are treated,” Valentine said. “There needs to be a shift in values. The underlying issue is the belief that certain people are deserving of certain rights.”
Mary L. Bonauto, who heads the Civil Rights Project at GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders, or GLAD, and whose arguments helped secure same-sex marriage in Massachusetts and helped make it legal nationwide in a 2015 US Supreme Court decision, called Monday’s decision a “historic ruling.”
“Our civil rights laws are intended to help our country live up to its promises of equality, and today’s decision from the Supreme Court brings us another step closer to that promise,” Bonauto said in a statement.
Massequality, a statewide LGBTQ civil rights group, praised the decision but said the LGBTQ community’s “struggle is far from over.”
“Until our laws remedy systemic racism and inequality, until it is no longer legal to discriminate against LGBTQ+ people in federally funded programs and in public spaces and our culture catches up to those laws, our movement’s pursuit of lived equality is far from done,” Massequality said.
Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, who is the first out lesbian to hold that post and who filed a brief supporting the plaintiffs in the Supreme Court case, said the ruling was “good for the LGBT community and good for Americans.”
The development was particularly meaningful after “Friday’s cruel decision by the Trump administration to roll back transgender protections in health care,” Healey said, pledging that her office would sue to block that change.
“We’ll see him in court,” she said of the president. “And in the meantime, we’ll celebrate today’s decision, which is the right decision, which ensures that you can go to work and be treated fairly.”