Let us say you found out somehow that an employee is gay. Maybe he mentioned his husband, the way many men talk about their wives. ("Any plans this weekend?" "I'm going to see my husband's family." This is not a graphic description of any bedroom activities and should not be conflated with such.)

Or in the case of a candidate, let us say you (as the hiring manager) did a social media search and found pictures of his wedding, in which he married another man.

Oops! You didn't know - and you didn't want to know - but now you do.

As a manager, are you legally allowed to let this affect your hiring decision?

As an employee, are you legally allowed to refuse to work with a gay employee?

My understanding, as someone born and raised in a Christian family, is that most Christians oppose homosexual sexual acts and by extension, homosexual marriage. But I have never heard of a religious justification to oppose working with a gay employee or hiring a gay candidate. As such, I don't think it's a question of religious freedom, but IANAL.

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    "My understanding, ... , is that most Christians oppose..., homosexual marriage." Recent surveys in the US show otherwise, unless you are restricting "Christians" to specifically members of evangelical groups. See pewforum.org/religious-landscape-study/… pewforum.org/religious-landscape-study/christians/christian/… and ncronline.org/news/opinion/… Many oppose same-sex marriage, but many others do not. Aug 14, 2019 at 22:12
  • @DavidSiegel Thanks for the links. I would make a distinction between supporting something and thinking it should be legal. I think many Christians support same-sex marriage in the sense that they think it should be legal, but that doesn't mean they support it in the very different sense that they would be willing to employ a gay person or provide a good or service to a gay customer. (Personally, I support it in either sense, for the record - this question isn't specific to me.)
    – dcacat
    Aug 15, 2019 at 13:32
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    Obviously, people's views vary. I haven't read many news stories about people attempting to refuse such hires, but clearly some have. I know a number of Christians who would have no problem working with a gay person, indeed who would think that refusing to hire such a person should be illegal. In fact, I'm married to one. But the legal rights here don't, or shouldn't, depend on how many people hold such a view. Whether current Federal law makes it illegal to refuse to hire a person based on orientation is disputed, and will be until SCOTUS rules or Congress acts. Aug 15, 2019 at 13:37

2 Answers 2


Federal law isn't yet settled on whether employers can discriminate based on sexual orientation (see the other answer), so instead let's take a look at Michigan state and local laws:

Based on my reading of this Wikipedia page, it appears that the 1967 "Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act" (pdf) has, as of 2018, been interpreted by the Michigan Civil Rights Commission to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

So, yes, if the company qualifies (looks like there are some exceptions for certain "private clubs" and religious organizations), it appears to be a violation of Michigan law to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation for hiring and/or employment decisions.

I'd also encourage you to take a look at this list of Michigan cities/municipalities that have passed additional protections for gender orientation. If your business is any any of those areas, you might be subject to more restrictive laws.

Regarding an employee who refuses to work with a gay coworker, I'd strongly recommend consulting with a local attorney; my suspicion is that taking action against the gay coworker would be illegal, firing or disciplining the complaining employee would not.

(I'm not an attorney, this is not legal advice, I'm just a dude who knows how to read Wikipedia, don't taunt Happy Fun Ball, etc...)

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    "Federal law doesn't ban employment discrimination based on sexual orientation" This is not yet settled, some courts have ruled that it does. The US Supreme Court has not yet ruled on the issue. See hte answer by @user6726 for relevant links. Aug 14, 2019 at 17:43

The matter has not been definitively decided. At the federal and state levels, there are interpretations (by administrative agencies and courts) of existing law which say that covered, non-exempt employers may not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation. There are also interpretations that such restrictions violate the Free Exercise Clause. The only definitive interpretation will come from SCOTUS, and they have not yet addressed the issue. They are hearing the combined case Altitude Express v. Zarda and Bostock v. Clayton County, and from the links you can see where the case stands at the moment. Until we see the decision, we don't really know. The ruling may be very narrow and not have any affect on state laws.

However: none of these laws address employees. There is no suggestion that an employee can be forced to work with a gay (or hetero) co-worker. The employer must make suitable accommodations for the alleged religious beliefs of an employee, if reasonably possible.


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