This past Monday and every January, we celebrate and remember the renowned leader, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and the ideals he stood for. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the other brave activists of the Civil Rights Movement achieved great heights that extended far beyond tearing down legalized racial discrimination. While there was (and still is) much to be done in terms of equity and racial justice, the Civil Rights Movement created a seismic shift in law, policy, social constructs, and more.

In 1964, President Lydon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act into law which “prohibited discrimination in public places, provided for the integration of schools and other public facilities, and made employment discrimination illegal.” The impact of this historic piece of legislation can still be felt today. 

The Civil Rights Act created five basic protective classes of people. The protected classes are race, color, religion, sex, and national origin.” In other words, people cannot be discriminated against due to their race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. By creating these classes, the Civil Rights Act aimed to protect historically marginalized groups of people. 

However, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 did not include protection for all possible reasons for discrimination. For example, while the umbrella of protection for sex-based discrimination in employment practices in Title VII of the Act included pregnant women, it did not include sexual orientation. In the landmark case of Obergefell v. Hodges (2015) the United States Supreme Court held that same-sex couples may marry. Its ruling was based upon the Due Process and Equal Protection clauses of the 14th Amendment. The Supreme Court could not use the Civil Rights Act because the Act is specific to race, religion, national origin, and sex. 

As our society grows and changes, the Supreme Court is tasked with interpreting the law in a new context which creates the following questions: What does each protected class entail? Should protection against sex-based discrimination include those who identify as transgendered? Have measures to counteract racial discrimination, like affirmative action, gone too far?    

I have been fortunate to travel to many different countries and it is obvious racial, sex, and sexual orientation discrimination is rampant and unchecked. In fact, many refugees come to America and seek asylum on the basis of racial or sexual discrimination. The strides the United States has made, although a bit slow, are strides that would not have been possible without the civil rights movement, Dr. King, the Civil Rights Act, and the United States Constitution.


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