Sexual orientation discrimination bills heard by legislation committee

By Reed Samson, NewsNetNebraska

Jill Lisky-Clark, representing Lincoln’s business community, said people should be judged strictly on performance and not sexual orientation.

“Discrimination based on sexual identity is an economic development issue,” she said.  “The workforce needs the most qualified people to remain competitive nationally and globally regardless of sexual preference.”

Clark was one of many who offered testimony last week before the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee hearing on three bills concerning discrimination of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender citizens.

Legislative Bill 485, introduced by State Sen. Danielle Conrad of Lincoln, would prohibit discrimination of sexual orientation in the workplace.

“I introduced LB 485 because I believe that in 2013 no one should be fired for who they are and who they love,” she said.

LB 380 introduced by State Sen. Sara Howard of Omaha seeks to remove marital status as a reason two persons would not be able to adopt a child.

“Could you and I adopt a baby?”  Judiciary member State Sen. Colby Coash said.

“Presumably we would have to be living together to show we have a stable and loving home,” Howard said.

The second bill, LB 385, introduced by State Sen. Jeremy Nordquist of Omaha says couples looking to become foster parents would not be discriminated against according to race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, marital status or national origin.

“Foster care is better than institutionalized care,” Nordquist said.  “We are ensuring that we have the maximum number of placements available and we are not discriminating against sexual orientation.”

In 1995, a memo from then-Social Services Director Mary Dean Harvey was based on the state’s intent to place children in the “most family-like setting when out-of-home care is necessary.”

The policy said that children “will not be placed in the homes of persons who identify themselves as homosexuals.” In addition, no foster home licenses “shall be issued to persons who identify themselves as homosexuals.”

Now, the American Psychological Association says there is no evidence to suggest that lesbian women or gay men are unfit to be parents, or that psychosocial development among children of lesbian women or gay men is compromised relative to that among offspring of heterosexual parents.

“We know what makes good parents,” Nordquist said.  “They are not reserved for those who are straight.”

Amy Miller, legal director of the Nebraska chapter of the ACLU, testified in support of all three bills to ensure that everyone has access to the same opportunities and protections.

“Every person has a sexual orientation and a gender identity,” she said.  “LB485 simply adjusts the existing law to protect (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered) employees, just as it currently protects employees based on characteristics like race, sex, religion, national origin and disability.”

Al Riskowski, executive director of the Nebraska Family Council, testified against Conrad’s measure.

“This attempt to solve employment discrimination based on sexual orientation causes numerous unintended consequences,” he said. “This bill would create a very unique protected class. All other current protected classes are limited to identifying a clearly definable group, such as race, disability, age, etc.

“LB485 prohibits discrimination based upon sexual orientation. In this unique situation you prohibit discrimination not just of a group of people but it also extends to their behavior. The protection of behavior is where many unintended consequences develop.”

The judiciary committee listened to nearly five hours of testimony March 14 before a very large, and largely split, audience.

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