The fate of a century-old Detroit mainstay hangs in the balance before the U.S. Supreme Court, but not likely for any reason you’d guess. In fact, once you know the broader implications of the case, you’ll realize why you should follow its outcome closely.
After all, the outcome in G.R. & R.G. Harris Funeral Homes v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission could have a huge impact on workplaces, schools, athletic fields, and even women’s shelters, not just in Michigan, but all over the nation.
Harris, which I argued before the Supreme Court on Oct. 8, raises a crucial question: Can Americans rely on the law as it’s written, or must we live in fear that it could change at the behest of unelected government officials?
Since 2013, Harris Funeral Homes and its owner, Tom Rost, have been the target of a lawsuit that aims to redefine “sex” in federal law to include “gender identity” and punish the fifth-generation funeral home in the process.
In 2007, the award-winning funeral home hired a biological male, Anthony Stephens, as a funeral director. Funeral directors are the face of the business, working closely with grieving families. For nearly six years, Stephens abided by the funeral home’s sex-specific dress code, which is consistent with the EEOC’s Compliance Manual.
Then, in 2013, Stephens told Tom that Stephens planned to begin dressing and presenting as a woman while interacting with grieving families at work. Tom was concerned for Stephens, as he is for all of his employees. He was also concerned about the grieving families he serves, whose needs Tom’s family has prioritized for generations.
Since Stephens’s proposal would have violated the agreed-upon dress code, Tom decided it was not going to work. It wasn’t long before Tom found himself defending his position on the opposite side of a courtroom from the federal government and, later, the ACLU.
They sued Tom to get a court to rewrite the law—to change the word “sex” in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to include “gender identity.” But Tom shouldn’t be punished for relying on the law as it’s written. Unelected government officials don’t have the authority to change a law that Congress has adopted. If the courts give them that power, none of us can rely on what the law says.
And what about the wider implications of redefining “sex” to include “gender identity”?
For starters, this shift—a decisive departure from the public meaning of “sex” when Congress adopted the law—could allow boys identifying as girls to compete in women’s athletics.
In Connecticut, two boys who identify as female have taken 15 girls’ track-and-field state championship titles in the past two years. When one parent raised concerns with government officials, she was told her daughter had the right to participate but not to win.
Redefining sex also jeopardizes free speech, parental rights, and free academic inquiry. Worse still, it would open private spaces reserved for women. In Alaska, an Anchorage commission used this same line of thinking to try to force a women’s shelter to allow a man who claims a female identity to sleep mere feet away from women who have been raped, trafficked, or abused.
In light of these unintended consequences, is it any wonder that Congress has declined at least a dozen times over the years to add on terms like “gender identity” to existing federal law? That’s why the ACLU and others have turned to unelected officials to achieve their desired goals.
So keep an eye on what the Supreme Court decides in Harris Funeral Homes. After all, your freedom to rely on what the law says—and much more—may very well depend on the outcome of a case that started in Detroit.