LGBT Americans still lack some discrimination protections

Following the recent Supreme Court decision that legalized gay marriage nationwide, many are turning toward private accommodation as the next battleground for equality.

Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP
Supporters celebrate outside the Supreme Court in Washington, June 26, after the court declared that same-sex couples have a right to marry anywhere in the United States.

Despite a recent, high-profile victory for gay rights in the Supreme Court decision that made same-sex marriage legal in all 50 states, members of the LGBT community are still subject to legal discrimination in many places, especially in the private sector.

Both business owners and employees alike have been in the news recently for denying services on religious and moral grounds.

On Thursday, Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear had to personally order Casey Davis, one of three county clerks in the state who is not granting marriage licenses to same sex-couples, to do his job or quit. According to NBC News, Gov. Beshear insisted clerks must carry out their duties and said the majority were "complying with the law" despite personal beliefs. A YouTube video of two men being denied a marriage license by Rowan County (Ky.) Clerk Kim Davis has been viewed more than 1.5 million times.  

In May, GOP presidential hopeful Jeb Bush followed a statement supporting the right to refuse service on religious or moral grounds by telling CBN News, “A big country – a tolerant country – ought to be able to figure out the difference between discriminating against someone because of their sexual orientation and forcing someone to participate in a wedding that they find goes against their moral beliefs. We should be able to figure this out. This shouldn’t be this complicated, but gosh it is right now.”

But rules about discrimination are less clear-cut for private businesses in the United States. 

In Colorado, where state law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation, a judge ruled in 2013 and the state civil rights commission upheld last year that a Lakewood bakery unlawfully discriminated against a gay couple by refusing to sell them a wedding cake. David Mullins and Charlie Craig were refused service by the Masterpiece Cakeshop last year, when they tried to order a cake for their upcoming wedding reception.

“Being denied service by Masterpiece Cakeshop was offensive and dehumanizing especially in the midst of arranging what should be a joyful family celebration,” Mullins told the media after the ruling, according to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) website.

But many states and municipalities don't guarantee LGBT Americans public accommodation by private businesses, and federal law does not consider gay or transgender people a protected group. In places without legal protections for LGBT Americans, often only company policies guarantee fair treatment.

Business etiquette expert Jaqueline Whitmore says in an interview that updating employment contracts and employee guidelines is one answer to stemming the tide of employees refusing to serve same-sex couples.

Ms. Whitmore, author of “Poised for Success: Mastering the Four Qualities That Distinguish Outstanding Professionals”and “Business Class: Etiquette Essentials for Success at Work” is the founder of The Protocol School of Palm Beach, Florida.

“You have to set policies and procedures. People need to have something in writing for people to follow,” Ms. Whitmore says. “If you want employees to say ‘Thank you’ and ‘It’s my pleasure,’ like they do at the Ritz Carlton, you’ve got to put that in writing. If you want them to treat them with respect and serve them regardless of their color, gender or sexual orientation, you need to put that in writing and you have to make people sign those policies and procedures so that they understand that. And if an employee goes against those policies and procedures, there are grounds for termination.”

“It would be a good idea, regardless, we change with the times and it’s a good idea to look at your policies and procedures manual frequently at least annually, with fresh eyes. That’s part of reinventing yourself and your business."

Where does etiquette enter into this situation?

“The only thing I can tell you from an etiquette standpoint is that you treat others the way you want to be treated,” says Whitmore. “You treat people like human beings regardless of their lifestyle.”

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