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Civil Rights Act

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The Civil Rights Act, whilst there have been many of that name, refers predominately to the 1964 legislation of the U.S. Federal government that finally saw the institutionalised racism of the United States become the crime it always was. The act was signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson on July 2, 1964.

President John F. Kennedy had proposed the legislation in his June 1963 speech "Report to the American People on Civil Rights", a few months before his assassination.[1]

Whilst ostensibly for the removal of racial discrimination, the single word 'sex' was added as an amendment by segregationist Democrat Howard SmithWikipedia of Virginia during its passage through Congress.[2] The amendment was intended as a poison pill by Smith to thwart the passage of the act, but Smith had miscalculated support within Congress for both the act and by the female representatives in the House (particularly Martha GriffithsWikipedia and Katharine St. GeorgeWikipedia).[2] The effect the passage of the Civil Rights Act was to not only outlaw racial discrimination but also discrimination against women (discrimination on the basis of 'race, color, religion, sex, or national origin').

Of course passing a law and having it enforced are two different things, and change came slowly and often only at the end of legal cases that dragged on all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court where the Act was defended and defined and given the support it deserved. Many of those cases are largely forgotten, but others enshrined basic principles into law and have had a large impact on the whole civil rights issue in the United States.

Fifty-six years after the passage of the act, the Supreme Court finally recognized that the inclusion of the word 'sex' in the act also meant that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.[2] Surprisingly, the majority opinion was written by conservative Trump appointee Neil M. Gorsuch, "An employer who fires an individual for being homosexual or transgender fires that person for traits or actions it would not have questioned in members of a different sex. Sex plays a necessary and undisguisable role in the decision, exactly what Title VII forbids."[2]

See also[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. Televised Address to the Nation on Civil Rights John F. Kennedy Presidential Library.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 How a segregationist paved the way for a big gay rights win in the Supreme Court by Aaron Blake (June 15, 2020 at 8:26 a.m. PDT) The Washington Post.