Today, the Supreme Court ruled narrowly in favor of a Colorado baker who refused to provide a wedding cake to a gay couple. But the court also refused to create a license to discriminate and made it clear that civil rights laws still bar discrimination in businesses open to the public.
While narrow, today’s ruling is nonetheless of particular concern to LGBT elders, who are already at higher risk of discrimination when accessing aging services and long-term care, the vast majority of which are provided by religiously affiliated institutions.
“We at SAGE have always known that the fight to end discrimination against LGBT people would be fought for years to come,” said SAGE CEO Michael Adams. “While we are concerned with the Supreme Court’s decision and the dangers posed to LGBT elders, it’s clear from the ruling that there is no license to discriminate and that civil rights laws can still apply to businesses open to the public. LGBT elders already face widespread discrimination in housing, services, and long-term care. We will continue to do everything in our power to ensure that LGBT elders, and all Americans, are treated fairly.”
A recent AARP survey found that roughly half of LGBT older people fear discrimination in health care as they age, while 34 percent of LGBT elders are concerned that they will have to hide their identity in order to access suitable housing. According to a national study released by the Equal Rights Center, 48 percent of same-sex couples experience discrimination when applying for senior housing.
With today’s decision, it is more important than ever that SAGE continues its fight against concerted efforts across the country and by the Trump administration to create a religious license to discriminate. Earlier this year, the Trump administration established the Conscience and Religious Freedom Division at the Department of Health & Human Services to shield medical providers who deny care based on religious or moral beliefs. The new division puts LGBT elders particularly at risk. According to Dignity Denied, a policy report released by SAGE, the Movement Advancement Project (MAP), and Columbia Law School’s Public Rights/Private Conscience Project, 85 percent of nonprofit long-term care retirement communities are affiliated with a religious institution.
That’s why SAGE recently launched Care Can’t Wait, a campaign to enlist supporters to stand with LGBT elders who need care without discrimination. SAGE has also joined civil rights advocates, religious leaders, labor groups, health organizations, and businesses to call on Congress to pass the Equality Act.
For more information about SAGE, visit www.sageusa.org.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Diverse Elders Coalition.