Learn about important Supreme Court cases and concerns affecting the LGBT community.
On June 26, 2003, the Supreme Court ruled in Lawrence v. Texas that Texas’ homosexual sodomy laws violate due process guarantees. The Court found that such laws “demean[s] the lives of homosexual persons” and acknowledged that gays and lesbians have “the full right to engage in private conduct without government intervention.” The Court’s ruling effectively invalidated state sodomy laws nation-wide.
Boy Scouts of America
James Dale, an assistant scout master, was removed from his Boy Scout troop when organizational leaders discovered he was gay. Mr. Dale sued the Boy Scouts of America (BSA), seeking reinstatement, and on August 4, 1999, the New Jersey State Supreme Court handed down a decision in favor of Mr. Dale. The Court unanimously held that the Boy Scouts of America constitute a “place of public accommodation” because it has broad-based membership and forms partnerships with public entities like police and fire departments. Therefore, the court decided that the BSA is subject to state laws and cannot deny any person “advantages, facilities, and privileges” on account of sexual orientation.
The case was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. The court considered the question of whether a state law requiring a Boy Scout Troop to appoint an avowed homosexual and gay rights activist as an Assistant Scout Master responsible for communicating the moral values of the Boy Scouts of America to youth members abridges the First Amendment rights of freedom of speech and freedom of association. The Court ruled in favor of the Boy Scouts, based on the BSA argument that homosexuality was in direct conflict with its guiding principles. Their 5-4 decision, on June 28, 2000, held that the BSA will be allowed to continue to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation.
“Transgender” refers to people who express an innate sense of gender other than the sex at the time of their birth. This includes transsexuals, cross-dressers and people who simply feel their biological sex fails to reflect their true gender. It is also referred to as “gender identity.” Currently, no federal law bans employment discrimination based on gender identity, leaving transgender individuals subject to workplace discrimination in hiring, firing, and promotions. The language of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (H.R. 3017/S. 1584) would protect people from workplace discrimination on the basis of both sexual orientation and gender identity.
The issue of hate crimes is also a major area of concern for the transgender community. The Human Rights Campaign estimates that transgender individuals living in America today have a one in 12 chance of being murdered. In contrast, the average person has about a one in 18,000 chance of being murdered. See the hate crimes issue page for more information.