WASHINGTON (NEXSTAR) — The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments Tuesday in three cases that could have huge implications for LGBTQ Americans.
The cases were filed by people who say they were illegally fired for being gay or transgender. The justices will decide if sexual orientation and gender identity are protected attributes under the word “sex” in the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
While LGBTQ advocates and conservative groups rallied outside in a divided protest, inside, the justices spent about two hours listening to attorneys argue on both side of the issue. Most of the time, the justices put forth a series of hypothetical scenarios to flesh out the arguments.
Liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg seemed to side with the plaintiffs, who argued that the word “sex” in the law has expanded to include sexual harassment and stereotyping.
Her colleague Justice Neil Gorsuch, a conservative, disagreed.
“There would be a massive social upheaval if the court was to change or expand the definition of the word sex to include gender identity and sexual orientation,” Gorsuch said.
“What happened to me was wrong,” plaintiff Aimee Stephens said.
Aimee Stephens is the transgender woman at the center of one case. Hers is the first case about transgender rights to make it to the Supreme Court.
Her attorney, David Cole of the American Civil Liberties Union, argued that Michigan funeral home owners violated the law by firing Stephens for refusing to follow their sex-based dress code.
“All we’re asking the court to do is to recognize that transgender people have the same rights under our Civil Rights Law,” Cole told reporters outside the Supreme Court building.
Thomas Rost and his wife own the funeral home and say they simply followed existing law.
“Americans and all American businesses should be able to rely on what the law says,” Rost said. “The ACLU is trying to change the law right from under us.”
Their lawyer, John Bursch, says changing the definition will hurt women in sports and in private women-only spaces like bathrooms and domestic violence shelters.
“The ACLU’s attempt to redefine sex creates unintended disadvantages for women and girls,” Bursch said.
The justices will have until June to issue a ruling.