Nebraska Bill Outlaws Anti-Gay Discrimination
LINCOLN, NE — Refusing to rent apartments to homosexuals or to show them homes for sale is legal in Nebraska, the Lincoln Journal Star reported.
But according to the Journal Star, it won’t be legal next fall in some circumstances under an amendment offered by Omaha Senator Ernie Chambers and attached to a real estate licensing bill.
Senators voted 26-8 for the amendment, which would prohibit real estate agents or brokers from discriminating based on sexual orientation.
The main bill, LB215, was then moved to the final stage of debate on the traditional voice vote.
If the measure were to become law, it would be the first time Nebraska law has barred discrimination based on sexual orientation.
Coincidentally, the measure passed at the beginning of Fair Housing Month, and Gov. Mike Johanns signed a proclamation making April fair housing month in the state, said Tim Butz, Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Nebraska.
“This is a bill limited to a narrow area, but it is a step in the right direction,” said Chambers. He praised the other 25 senators for their “awareness and courage” in doing “something that is eminently just and proper.”
Chambers is also sponsoring a bill (LB19) that would prohibit employment discrimination based on sexual orientation. That measure will not be debated on the floor this year, because it does not have a priority status.
The real estate bill still has several hurdles before it becomes law.
Gering Senator Adrian Smith, sponsor of the bill, who said it should be legal to discriminate against homosexuals, is not in favor of the amendment. Smith said he may pull the bill from final reading because of the amendment.
Johanns, who could veto the measure, was noncommittal about how he would respond to it.
The amendment adds sexual orientation to a list of classes — religion, race, color, national origin, sex, familial status, disability and ethnic group — that are covered in the real estate licensing provisions.
“Every human being should have the right to obtain a place to live,” said Chambers during debate that lasted less than half an hour.
Because of the hatred and discrimination they face, gay men and lesbian women need this protection, he said.
Based on sexual orientation or alleged sexual orientation, “a person can be fired. They can be harassed. They can be denied a job,” Chambers said.
“This is a first step,” said Chambers, who said he would continue to try to add sexual orientation whenever the list of classes protected from discrimination appears in a bill.
Supporters of protecting homosexuals from discrimination were pleased at the small step.
“It’s progress at last,” said Deanna Zaffke, co-chairwoman of a coalition supporting anti-discrimination legislation in the state. But Zaffke said she wasn’t surprised.
In other states that passed legislation banning same-sex marriages, the following years they increased civil rights, she said.
Nebraskans passed a constitutional amendment last fall barring same-sex marriages and civil unions.
When he worked for the Fair Housing Center of Nebraska, the ACLU’s Butz said, he got several complaints a month about discrimination based on sexual orientation.
“The problem is very real. The protections are nonexistent, and what Sen. Chambers has done is move toward eliminating a barrier for justice in housing,” said Butz.
For more information on discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered persons, go to http://archive.aclu.org/issues/gay/hmgl.html.
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