LGBT Vs. Religion: Tough Questions Ahead For Supreme Court

Even before the Supreme Court ruled in Obergefell v. Hodges that the right to marry is guaranteed to same-sex couples by the U.S. Constitution, a conflict had been brewing between religious traditionalists and LGBT advocates. As more LGBT individuals opened up about their sexual preferences and identities, religious traditionalists became more vocal about their beliefs regarding gender and sexuality.

Predictably, this conflict spilled into the courts with workplace disputes pitting religious freedom against LGBT rights. The following is only a sampling of some of these disputes:

  • A funeral employee was terminated after transitioning from male to female. The funeral home owner “sincerely believed that the Bible teaches that a person’s sex is an immutable God-given gift,” and that he would be “violating God’s commands if [he] were to permit one of [the Funeral Home’s] funeral directors to deny their sex while acting as a representative of [the] organization” or if he were to “permit one of [the Funeral Home’s] male funeral directors to wear the uniform for female funeral directors while at work.” EEOC v. R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes, Inc., 884 F.3d 560 (6th Cir. 2018).

  • Citing his Christian beliefs, an employee refused to answer transgender-related questions in his employer’s Ethics Compliance course, and was terminated. Brennan v. Deluxe Corp., 361 F.Supp.3d 494 (D.Md. 2019).

  • An employee was terminated by his employer for refusing to sign a certification agreeing to “fully recognize, respect and value the differences among all of us.” Citing his Christian beliefs, the employee believed some behavior and beliefs were deemed sinful by Scripture, and thus, he could not “value” such behavior or beliefs without compromising his own religious beliefs. Buonanno v. AT&T Broadband, LLC, 313 F.Supp.2d 1069 (D.Colo. 2004).

  • An employee was terminated for refusing to cease from displaying bible verses condemning sodomy in response to an employer’s diversity campaign posters, which featured gay employees. Peterson v. Hewlett-Packard Co., 358 F.3d 599 (9th Cir. 2004).

In 2020, the Supreme Court in Bostock v. Clayton County held 6-3 that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”) protects applicants and employees against discrimination because of their sexual orientation and gender identity. As with many opinions, the Court answered one question only to raise new ones. In his dissent, Justice Samuel Alito warned: “The entire Federal Judiciary will be mired for years in disputes about the reach of the Court’s reasoning.”

Among the new questions raised by Bostick are those which frequently arise from workplace disputes pitting religious freedom against LGBT rights. Indeed, it is likely that the Supreme Court will be faced with two such questions sooner rather than later.


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