COLUMBIA — S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson is opposing protections for transgender people in front of the U.S. Supreme Court along with 12 other Republican attorneys general and three Republican governors.
Wilson, who is running for reelection in November, signed on to a legal brief this month, pushing back against a lower court ruling that extended federal workplace protections to a transgender woman from Michigan.
The transgender woman at the center of the case, Aimee Stephens, worked for roughly five years as a funeral home director but was later fired when she informed the funeral home that she would begin dressing like a woman.
As a result, three federal appeals judges in Ohio ruled earlier this year that Stephens had been discriminated against — a decision that confirmed that federal sex discrimination laws protect transgender people.
In their brief, Wilson and the other Republicans argue that decision shouldn't stand. The elected officials from states like Oklahoma, Alabama, West Virginia and South Carolina point out that federal law only refers to discrimination based on "sex" not "gender identity."
They say individual states should have the right to decide who is protected from workplace discrimination, not the federal government.
"Our position in this amicus is a legal position not a philosophical one," Wilson said in a statement Wednesday. "Until the Obama administration, the concept of 'sex discrimination' was thought to include gender at birth rather than gender identity. As a strict constructionist, I believe it is up to Congress to include gender identity within the meaning of sex discrimination."
"It is wrong to discriminate against anybody," Wilson added. "Everyone should be treated with dignity and respect."
The American Civil Liberties Union of South Carolina said it agrees the federal law doesn't specifically mention "gender identity." But it says discrimination based on sex is akin to the same thing and, as a result, is unconstitutional.
"To suggest otherwise is a ridiculous semantics argument to advance a message of division and to deny recognition of a real human condition," the ACLU said in a statement.
The arguments in the Supreme Court case come at a time when discrimination against the transgender community is in the spotlight in Charleston.
On Aug. 19, a 34-year-old transgender woman was attacked in downtown Charleston by a man who police said used slurs about her gender identity. The woman was knocked unconscious, but she returned to work this week.
Her attacker has not been caught.