Government & Politics

Missouri attorney general says federal law doesn’t ban LGBTQ discrimination

Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt
Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt File photo

Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt has signed on to a brief before the U.S. Supreme Court arguing that federal law does not protect lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender individuals from workplace discrimination.

Schmitt joined with 13 other Republican attorneys general hoping to convince the court that sexual orientation and gender identity are not covered by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 — which prohibits employers from discriminating against workers based on race, color, religion, national origin, age, pregnancy, disability or sex.

The U.S. Supreme Court agreed earlier this year to address the issue, and will hear arguments in October.

The brief, signed by Schmitt, contends federal law prohibits only “sex” discrimination, “and the plain meaning of ‘sex’ is biological status as male or female, not sexual orientation or gender identity.”

Chris Nuelle, Schmitt’s spokesman, said the attorney general’s signature on the brief “should not be interpreted as speaking to the merits of the issue, but rather the interpretation of the law that is written.”

“The federal law, written in 1964, provides that you can’t discriminate based on sex,” Nuelle said. “It is the opinion of this brief, that at that time, sex did not include transgender individuals. Should Title VII need to be rewritten at the federal level is up to congress, not the courts.”

Nuelle said Schmitt believes that “”every person, no matter their race, creed, ZIP code or gender, should be treated with dignity under the law.”

Rep. Greg Razer, a Kansas City Democrat and one of only four openly gay Missouri legislators, said he was disappointed by Schmitt’s decision.

“A lot has changed since 1964,” Razer said. “We’ve learned a lot since 1964. This is what courts are supposed to do. Look at a law and figure out what it means when legislators are vague.

“If he’s so hell bent on the courts not intervening,” Razer added, “maybe he should encourage Congress and the Legislature to act.”

While a smattering of local governments around the state – including Kansas City and Jackson County – have passed ordinances seeking to outlaw anti-LGBTQ discrimination, Missouri has no statewide protections in place.

That means someone can be fired from their job, evicted from housing or kicked out of a restaurant for being gay or being perceived as gay.

Legislative efforts to change that dynamic have floundered for two decades.

Steph Perkins, executive director of the LGBTQ-rights organization PROMO, said “no one should be fired from their job simply because of who they are or who they love.”

“Since Missouri Attorney General Schmitt believes that Title VII does not include protections for LGBTQ Missourians, we look forward to working with him to take action right here in Missouri to ensure hardworking Missourians can’t be fired from their jobs, denied housing, or refused services simply because they are LGBTQ,” Perkins said.

The closest lawmakers came to adding sexual orientation and gender identity to Missouri’s anti-discrimination law was in 2013, when Schmitt was as a state legislator from St. Louis County.

The state Senate passed a bill outlawing discrimination against LGBTQ Missourians on the final day of the 2013 legislative session, earning support from 10 Democrats and nine Republicans – including now Missouri Gov. Mike Parson.

Schmitt skipped the 2013 vote on the nondiscrimination bill, even though he cast votes that day both immediately before and after the bill was brought up for debate and ultimately passed.

The bill ended up dying that year when the House refused to take it up for a vote in the final minutes of the legislative session. The idea has never again come anywhere near as close to becoming law.

Asked Monday about skipping that 2013 vote, Schmitt’s spokesman declined comment.

Schmitt was elected Missouri Treasurer in 2016. Parson appointed him Attorney General in January 2019, following former Attorney General Josh Hawley’s election to the U.S. Senate.

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Jason Hancock is The Star’s lead political reporter, providing coverage of government and politics on both sides of the state line. A three-time National Headliner Award winner, he has written about politics for more than a decade for news organizations across the Midwest.