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The EEOC Weighs in on Sexual Orientation Discrimination

Gay couple

Last week, the EEOC held in a case before it that the discrimination based on sexual orientation is discrimination “based on sex,” and therefore prohibited by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the federal law that prohibits workplace discrimination. Read more here.  This isn’t the biggest deal in Connecticut, as our state laws already specifically prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation.  However, it is evidence of the changing landscape of laws protecting gay rights in the U.S.

On June 26, the U.S. Supreme Court held that state laws defining marriage as between a man and a woman exclusively are unconstitutional.  Read the opinion here.  In making this determination, the Court recognized that persons choosing to enter into relationships with members of the same sex are entitled to all of the fundamental rights that those in opposite-sex relationships are.  It thus interpreted the scope of the Constitution’s protections to be broader than was previously understood.  The EEOC has followed suit, holding that Title VII protects more persons from discrimination than was previously understood.

It has become clear that sexual orientation is a protected status under federal law.  Again, for a state like Connecticut that has licensed gay marriages for years, this isn’t a ground breaking change.  However, it does mean that federal laws like ERISA, which governs employee benefits, will be interpreted to allow for a spouse to be a same sex spouse going forward.

This has been a cool process to watch as a civil rights lawyer. Before our eyes, a group of historically oppressed people has been recognized as equal before the law.  The state-sponsored discrimination that has taken place for years is now illegal.  It’s also cool that Connecticut has been one of the first states to recognize these important rights.