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A US federal appeals court has ruled that the country’s 1964 Civil Rights Act protects against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, handing a high-profile victory to LGBT rights advocates.

The US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in Chicago ruled in favour of plaintiff Kimberly Hively, an openly lesbian adjunct professor at Ivy Tech Community College of Indiana, who alleged she had been denied a full-time position and not had her contract renewed because of her sexual orientation.

Ms Hively had previously argued that this violated a prohibition on sex discrimination included in a statute of the Civil Rights Act, a position the majority of the court’s judges endorsed on Tuesday.

Chief judge Diane Wood wrote for the eight-judge majority that “it is actually impossible to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation without discriminating on the basis of sex”, and concluded that protection against sex discrimination under the Civil Rights Act extends to sexual orientation.

The ruling overturned a previous ruling and ordered a full rehearing of the case.

In a dissenting opinion offered by three of the court’s judges, judge Diane Sykes responded that “all circuits agree that sexual-orientation discrimination is a distinct form of discrimination and is not synonymous with sex discrimination”. She described the court’s ruling as a “radical change in a well-established, uniform interpretation” of the landmark 1964 legislation.

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