Individuals could not be denied public service or housing because of their sexual orientation or gender identity under a bill heard Feb. 26 by the Judiciary Committee.
LB230, sponsored by Omaha Sen. Megan Hunt, would prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity in public accommodations and under the Nebraska Fair Housing Act.
Hunt said no one should be denied the ability to get a sandwich or a haircut because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
“Providing a commercial service doesn’t mean that a business owner endorses or agrees with everything their customers believe,” she said. “It simply means the business owners are providing a service to the public and that they must be open on the same terms to everyone.”
Public accommodations include any business or public place offering the general public goods, services, food, shelter, recreation and amusement including hotels, restaurants, movie theaters, stores or any publicly funded facility.
Sarah Rips of Lincoln spoke in support of the bill. She said the protections proposed in LB230 align with the beliefs of the majority of Nebraskans.
“Despite all of the progress that LGBT people have [achieved] in the last 10 years, we have a long way to go,” Rips said. “And as an LGBT person in Nebraska, I know we have a long way to go, but I know we can get there.”
Also speaking in support of the bill was Kayla Meyer, representing the Lincoln Young Professionals Group. Society is becoming more diverse, she said, and Nebraska should strive to become more inclusive and welcoming.
“Discrimination is already against the law when it comes to factors like race, religion, sex and national origin,” Meyer said. “As a state we have the opportunity to step up and act now to make sure these protections are provided for [all] our citizens.”
Opposing the bill was Karen Bowling, executive director of the Nebraska Family Alliance. Other states have ruled that protections similar to those in LB230 would apply to churches, she said, including prohibitions on gender-specific bathrooms.
“Government officials have used [sexual orientation and gender identity] laws to force churches and faith-based organizations to violate their sincerely held beliefs,” Bowling said. “Bodily privacy and dignity must be protected.”
Matt Sharp, speaking on behalf of the Alliance Defending Freedom, also opposed LB230. He said constitutional free speech protections should be applied equally.
“Tolerance and respect for good-faith differences of opinion are essential in a pluralistic society like ours and enable us to peacefully coexist with each other,” Sharp said. “But laws like LB230 will result in kind-hearted Nebraskans being dragged into court and being punished by the government for peaceably seeking to live and work consistent with their beliefs.”
The committee took no immediate action on the bill.