A federal appeals court ruled Tuesday that employees can't be fired or otherwise discriminated against due to their sexual orientation, a move that gay rights group called a "game-changer."
The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals' ruling is likely to head to the Supreme Court, since it based its ruling on the 1964 Civil Rights Act. In an 8-3 decision, judges ruled the landmark legislation also applied to sexual orientation, even if it was not originally intended to do so.
This decision is a game-changer for lesbian and gay employees ... it is against the law to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation.
"I don't see why firing a lesbian because she is ... a lesbian should be thought any less a form of sex discrimination than firing a woman because she's a woman," Judge Richard Posner wrote in a concurrent opinion.
The lawsuit began when Kimberly Hively sued after Ivy Tech Community College did not promote her to a full-time job. She alleged this was because of her being a lesbian. ITCC wrote in a statement that its policies prevent discrimination based on sexual orientation and it did not pass over Hively because of her sexuality.
The ruling came on the anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.
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Dissenting judges argued the reference to "sex" in the Civil Rights Act wasn't intended to refer to sexual orientation, but whether a worker was male or female. Judge Diane Sykes, who wrote the dissenting opinion, argued it was understandable the court wanted to protect LGBT people, but that was Congress' responsibility to change the law.
LGBT advocates argued the ruling was "huge."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.