The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

This is the next front in the battle for gay rights

LGBTQ Americans still lack protection against discrimination in the workplace.

Members of the Human Rights Campaign, an LGBT civil rights organization, wave so-called equality flags outside the Supreme Court. (EPA/JIM LO SCALZO)

With the Supreme Court's decision today striking down state bans on gay marriage, gay and lesbian people are now fully equal in the eyes of the law. Right?

Well, not exactly. There's still a big hurdle: No federal law currently prevents employers from discriminating against people on the basis of sexual orientation. So while gay, lesbian and bisexual people may have equal rights in love, they're still far from equal at work.

It's not just semantics. Multiple studies have found that gay and lesbian people face higher rates of employment discrimination and harassment, whether it's through denial of certain health benefits, vandalism of personal property, or bias in hiring. (Rates are particularly high for transgender people, although according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, they are protected under the prohibition of discrimination on the basis of sex).

The story isn't as bad for people in the 21 states and the District of Columbia that have taken it upon themselves to ban workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. And last year, President Obama signed an executive order that does the same for federal workers. But that leaves private sector workers and local government employees in several very populous states, like Texas and Florida, with few legal protections.

Here's the Human Rights Campaign's map of employment discrimination laws:

Meanwhile, much of corporate America has taken action on its own. The HRC's 2015 Corporate Equality Index found that 89 percent of the Fortune 500 included sexual orientation in their non-discrimination policies, up from 61 percent in 2002. Still, there are plenty of small businesses where such policies aren't official.

Activists have tried for years to fix the problem. The federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act has been introduced in most sessions of Congress since 1994, but failed each time, most recently in 2013. Despite strong public support for such measures, many Republicans still believe the issue should be left to the states to decide.

But now that the Supreme Court has ruled that equality in marriage is universal, it's possible that equality in work may not be far behind.