Trump's Justice Department says gays aren't eligible for civil rights protections

The Department of Justice claims that Title VII protections do not extend to the LGBT community

By Matthew Rozsa

Staff Writer

Published July 27, 2017 10:44AM (EDT)

  (AP/Matt Rourke)
(AP/Matt Rourke)

Under President Barack Obama, the Department of Justice staunchly supported gay rights. Those days are long gone.

The Department of Justice filed an amicus brief on Wednesday, claiming that the 1964 Civil Rights Act does not extend to sexual orientation, according to a report by CNN. Title VII of the landmark legislation protects employees from discrimination based on color, national origin, race, religion and sex — but doesn't actually include sexual orientation.

The amicus brief was filed in the case of Donald Zarda, a former skydiving instructor who claims he was fired for mentioning his sexual orientation to a customer (he has since then passed away). That case didn't involve the federal government, so it's a bit surprising that the Justice Department would weigh in.

"The question presented is not whether, as a matter of policy, sexual orientation discrimination should be prohibited by statute, regulations, or employer action," the Justice Department wrote. "In fact, Congress and the executive branch have prohibited such discrimination in various contexts. ... The sole question here is whether, as a matter of law, Title VII reaches sexual orientation discrimination."

The amicus brief adds, "It does not, as has been settled for decades. Any efforts to amend Title VII’s scope should be directed to Congress rather than the courts."

Although President Barack Obama's Justice Department pursued a pro-LGBT policy in cases ranging from the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" to the marriage equality case Obergefell v. Hodgeslower courts have been divided over whether Title VII applies to discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

In March, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals (representing Alabama, Florida and Georgia) ruled that Title VII does not prevent discrimination based on sexual orientation. One month later, however, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals (representing Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin) ruled that LGBT workers are in fact protected by that statute.

It remains to be seen whether the amicus brief from the Justice Department will ultimately compel an unfavorable ruling for the civil rights of LGBT individuals.

By Matthew Rozsa

Matthew Rozsa is a staff writer at Salon. He received a Master's Degree in History from Rutgers-Newark in 2012 and was awarded a science journalism fellowship from the Metcalf Institute in 2022.

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