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‘Religious freedom’ arguments kill Nebraska’s LGBTQ employment protections bill

Tuesday, March 5th, 2019

Nebraska is one of more than two dozen states that have no LGBTQ nondiscrimination protections at the state level. That’s not changing anytime soon, as a bill to create employment protections came to an abrupt end this week.

State Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks (D) introduced LB 627 in January this year. The legislation would have updated all relevant state statutes to prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Pansing Brooks, whose son is gay, pleaded with fellow lawmakers Tuesday to consider the bill.

Pansing Brooks nearly secured the 25-vote majority she needed for passage, but could not find the 33 votes she needed to overcome a filibuster-ending cloture motion. Opponents of the bill claimed that it would be used to target religious business owners in the state and punish them for their beliefs.

Sen. Robert Clements (R) suggested that LGBTQ people didn’t deserve protections because he wasn’t aware of any science suggesting they were “born at birth that way.” Moreover, he took umbrage that “what the Bible teaches, and Christians and Jews have affirmed for 2,000 years, is being called hateful,” claiming the bill constituted “reverse discrimination.”

After reading an email from a constituent claiming that the protections would punish people of faith for their religious beliefs, Sen. Dave Murman (R) also claimed the bill “would threaten small-business owners with liability for alleged discrimination based on perceived gender.”

Many of the lawmakers who supported LB 627 warned of a brain drain, with young people leaving the state to find a more welcoming community. Sen. Megan Hunt (D), who identifies as bisexual and Nebraska’s first-ever LGBTQ senator, is herself a business owner and employs 12 young women, and knows first-hand how challenging it is to keep young people in the state. “I think there’s a lot to learn about why Nebraska struggles to keep young people here,” she said.

Sen. Adam Morfeld (D) similarly recalled the story of an attorney who lost a position at a Nebraska law firm after he inquired about same-sex partner benefits, and talked about a constituent in his district who was fired from a fast-food restaurant after it came out he had a boyfriend.

But opponents of the bill were not convinced. Murman instead insisted that young people were supposedly flocking to Nebraska because of the state’s conservative values.

Though LB 627 is essentially dead for the session, Pansing Brooks is still optimistic that the debate helped create some change that will allow it to pass in the future. Writing on Facebook after its defeat, she took hope that the politics of the state were changing and that “Nebraska will ultimately see the light.”

“I will continue to fight with every fiber of my being for the protection of LGBTQ people’s civil rights,” she wrote.

Democrats in Congress are expected to introduce the Equality Act soon, which would create nationwide LGBTQ protections in employment, housing, public accommodations, education, and credit. Though the bill has previously been introduced in the past two sessions of Congress, Republicans never brought it up for a vote.

This blog was originally published at ThinkProgress on March 5, 2019. Reprinted with permission 

About the Author: Zack Ford is the LGBTQ Editor at ThinkProgress.org, where he has covered issues related to marriage equality, transgender rights, education, and “religious freedom,” in additional to daily political news.

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