One of the most important pieces of legislation of the twentieth century was signed fifty years ago this week, on July 2, 1964. That was the day President Johnson, just a few hours after House approval, signed the Civil Rights Act into law.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlawed segregation in businesses such as theaters, restaurants, and hotels. It banned discriminatory practices in employment and ended segregation in public places such as swimming pools, libraries, and public schools.
That 1964 piece of legislation was highly significant. An article in the Huffington Post asserted that it “affected the nation profoundly” and “changed American history.” While it did not solve all the problems of discrimination against African-Americans immediately, it did lead quickly to great improvements.
To give but one example, in Mississippi voter registration of the eligible black population increased from under 7 percent in 1965 to more than 70 percent in 1967.
Back in 1964, the term “civil rights” was used almost exclusively for the rights of African-Americans. In recent years that same term has increasingly been applied to the rights of LGBT persons.
Last semester one of my African-American students, who was considerably older that most of the other students in the class, objected to my use of “civil rights” to refer to what are also called gay/lesbian rights.
But civil rights should be enjoyed by all Americans, and gays/lesbians are the main segment of society today whose rights are often unprotected.
On November 7, 2013, such a bill passed by the Senate with bipartisan support by a vote of 64-32. President Obama supports the bill’s passage, but opposition in the Republican-dominated House of Representatives has kept the bill from becoming law.
Consequently, on June 16 it was announced that the President plans to sign an executive order banning discrimination against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender employees by companies that do business with the federal government.
The President’s order will implement on a limited scale what the White House would like to see Congress pass into law for the entire nation.
A June 23 article in Bloomberg Businessweek is titled, “Most Americans Think It's Illegal to Fire Someone for Being Gay. They're Wrong.” That article goes on to point out,
Most U.S. states lack explicit legislation barring discrimination against LGBT employees; current U.S. law is uneven, limited, and ambiguous. Only 21 states and the District of Columbia bar firing employees for their sexual orientation. Of those, 18 (and again, Washington) also ban firing transgender employees.
The President’s upcoming executive order is surely a step in the right direction. It’s a real shame, though, that there cannot be bipartisan support for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act of 2014 as there was for the Civil Rights Act fifty years ago.
I remain baffled that the Republican Party wants to be known as the party that is for discrimination against a sizeable segment of the U.S. population.