Cakes Aside, Gay Rights Groups See Employment Discrimination as Next Big Battle

Every one of the “Dykes on Bikes” who roared through Detroit as part of the city’s Gay Pride weekend celebration June 6-7 could have been fired from their jobs the following Monday because they are lesbians.

Most gay people in America don’t live in states where their employer is forbidden from firing them on the basis of sexual orientation, if they even get hired in the first place.

For gay rights groups, this is another stand for civil rights. For social conservatives, it may be a last-chance Battle of the Bulge-style stand for religious liberty over sexual liberty.

No matter what side you are on in this debate, workplace discrimination against the LGBT community is going to be the next battleground for gay rights advocates.

A legal organization that advocates for religious freedom, known as Alliance Defending Freedom, is warning Christian schools, churches and faith-based nonprofit groups to be prepared. Alliance Defending Freedom’s advice and warning may also help private-sector business owners.

A gay-rights think tank, Movement Advancement Project, released a study in May that argued even if the Supreme Court rules in favor of same-sex marriage, 61 percent of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender couples who get married would still live in states where they faced “significant legal discrimination.”

The study showed 52 percent of LGBT people could be fired from their jobs because of their sexual orientation. Michigan, where the Dykes on Bikes rode to celebrate Gay Pride Day, is one of the 28 states the Movement Advancement Project highlights as being the worst in the nation in terms of gay rights.

Gay rights leaders say whether you know it or not, the first salvos in this battle have already been fired.

“There are advocacy groups on the ground doing work state-by-state, and there are also groups on the state and national level working on federal protections,” Movement Advancement Project LGBT Movement and Policy Analyst Heron Greenesmith told PJM.

“Both avenues are productive. Obviously the state-by-state effort is working in the current climate where we don’t have federal protection, so that is important in the meantime,” Greenesmith added. “And obviously federal protection will be super helpful for states in which a hostile climate is not making a state approach as viable.”

This is more than just left-wing, liberal talk. The Washington Post reported that groups at the forefront of the battle to end workplace discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are the same organizations that spearheaded the same-sex marriage movement, and they are backed by $25 million from wealthy donors.

“The ability to live openly and to earn a living is so central to every American and certainly every LGBT American,” Matt McTighe, director of Freedom for All Americans, told the Washington Post. “It’s high time we addressed this from a legislative standpoint.”

However, social conservatives argue that state and federal officials have no right to tell business owners whom they should or should not hire. Besides, they say a 2012 Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ruling that extended the definition of sex discrimination to include gender identification proves new laws are not needed.