Changes in Family Law as a Precursor to Employment Law Shifts?

James Becker

October 13, 2014

With much of the issue of social equality in terms of marriage moving towards its rearview mirror, the LGBT movement (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender project) is now pushing for equal employment rights.  Maybe because of what I do, but I thought this would come up as a significant issue much sooner. 

The basic thrust of the issue is it to create a society in which lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people can claim a protected status for purposes of employment decisions.  Right now, this status is enjoyed in some states and municipalities.  If this movement is successful, it would mean that employers across this country could not take an adverse employment action against an individual because he or she is lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered.  Tennessee employment law offers no such protection.

In light of the recent Supreme Court decision to not review the appellate court decisions invalidating laws prohibiting same sex marriage, gay people can now legally marry in more states than where they are being legally protected from job discrimination.  While the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and subsequent federal laws prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of race, national origin, sex, religion, age, and disability:  no law at the national level forbids job discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

An example of this occurred towards the end of July this year.  A church music director was fired after he announced that he was engaged to his male-partner.  Colin Collette of Chicago says it was no secret that he was gay, he had even been living with his partner for five years.  However, when he made his living arrangement public by announcing his engagement, his employer terminated his employment.  Setting aside issues of church doctrine, it is clear that for him the employer is completely within its legal rights. 

For how long though?  With significant changes in this country related to acceptance of same sex marriage, how long will it be until there are similar changes in our employment law structure?