The Supreme Court today hears arguments in three cases focused on whether or not federal non-discrimination protections on the basis of sex include transgender, lesbian and gay employees.
The Equality Act, written by Merkley, passed the U.S. House of Representatives in May. However, with a majority Republican U.S. Senate, Merkley isn't optimistic about the bill getting a hearing any time soon.
"Under Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, I do not think he will allow this bill, the Equality Act, to be on the floor," Merkley said during a press conference today. "So once again, elections will make a difference. Elections matter."
The court cases being heard by the Supreme Court today involve workers who say they were fired based on their sexual orientation and gender. In two cases, involving a Georgia-based social worker Gerald Bostock and skydiving instructor Donald Zarda, plaintiffs allege they were fired for being openly gay. In another, Michigan funeral home worker Aimee Stephens, says she was fired after informing the owners of her gender transition.
At issue is the interpretation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which says workers cannot be discriminated against based on race, religion or sex. Employers in the cases say the federal protections do not include sexual orientation, nor do they require employers to "treat men as women," the Washington Post reported.
Kelly Simon, an attorney with the ACLU of Oregon, said during today's press conference that the Supreme Court's decision has massive implications.
"The right to exist for transgender people is being put to the test and that is bad enough, but the risk does not stop there," she said. "What the Trump administration and the employers in these cases are arguing is that employers should be allowed to fire people just for not looking or acting or dressing masculine or feminine enough for their liking. The implications could be disastrous for all LGBTQ people and all women."
Simon added that for over two decades LGBTQ Oregonians have been protected from workplace discrimination via the Oregon Equality Act, which Merkley championed in 2007.
Both Simon and Merkley underscored the importance of pushing similar legislation at the federal level, but argued that Title VII should undoubtedly be interpreted by the court to include lesbian, gay and transgender people.
"Title VII of the Equal Rights Act bars discrimination based on sex, and it should absolutely bar discrimination based on who you are or whom you love," Merkley said. "This shouldn't be a close decision."