Americans generally consider their marriages so sacred and personal that no one, especially not their employers, should be able to interfere with them. But after this week's Supreme Court decision, gay and lesbian couples are able to marry in eight states where the union can get them fired.
In 29 states, there is no law banning employers, landlords, and public accommodations providers from discriminating against LGBT Americans: A boss can fire a worker because he's gay, or a landlord can refuse to rent out an apartment to a lesbian couple because of their sexual orientation. In comparison, 21 states don't have marriage equality after the past week of court decisions.
"Prior to this week, the only state that had marriage for same-sex couples but did not also have workplace protections in place on the basis of sexual orientation was Pennsylvania," said Ian Thompson, legislative representative for LGBT issues at the American Civil Liberties Union. "We're going to have more states where that is true."
In the past, LGBT people could hide their sexual orientation to avoid getting fired — an obviously unfavorable but sometimes necessary approach in much of the country. But marriage licenses are generally public record. An employer could look up someone's marriage record, find out he's gay, and fire him with no questions asked — and no laws broken — in Idaho, Indiana, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Utah, Virginia, or West Virginia, seven of which began allowing same-sex marriages this week.
Workplace and housing discrimination has always been an issue for LGBT people. A 2011 study from the Williams Institute found that between 2003 and 2007 about 9.2 percent of openly gay, lesbian, and bisexual people were fired or denied employment based on their sexual orientation, and 38.2 percent were harassed on the job because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. A 2013 study from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development found same-sex couples experience less favorable treatment than heterosexual couples in the online rental housing market, although the same study also found that nondiscrimination protections don't seem to affect rates of adverse treatment.
LGBT advocates argue that nondiscrimination laws provide same-sex couples with a means to get some recourse for discrimination, even if the laws aren't always perfect.
A 2014 survey from TargetPoint Consulting of 1,200 registered voters found 63 percent support protections for LGBT workers. As marriage equality becomes a foregone issue, LGBT advocates hope to tap into this public support to lobby for change at the state and federal levels.
"We really have to address these issues of discrimination against LGBT people in a holistic manner," Thompson said. "There's definitely a lot of work still to be done."