Ban on employment discrimination based on sexual orientation debated

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April 3, 2014 - 5:39pm

Sen. Danielle Conrad (Photo by Fred Knapp, NET News)

Nebraska lawmakers began debate Thursday on banning job discrimination based on sexual orientation. They also voted to keep allowing the hunting of mountain lions, and against allowing betting on previously run horseraces.

The proposal to ban employment discrimination sparked strong emotions from both supporters and opponents. Chief sponsor Sen. Danielle Conrad led off the debate explaining why she introduced the bill. "I believe no one should be fired for who they are. No one should be fired for who they love. And to quote Victor Hugo, ‘Nothing is as powerful as an idea whose time has come,’ Conrad said.

The proposal would ban employment discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. It contains exceptions for religious organizations and employers, and businesses with fewer than 15 employees.

Sen. Mark Christensen of Imperial began a filibuster against the bill, declaring "I don’t believe this is a proper step and I know my district is very adamant that this is not what they want to see."

Christensen also cited a study of identical twins to argue that homosexuality is not genetic. But Sen. Bill Avery said the authors were chemists, not psychologists. Consulting experts in the field, Avery said, reveals a much different picture. "Sexual preference is just like the color of your eyes. It’s part of your DNA. You don’t get up one morning and say ‘I think I’m going to be gay today,’" he said.

Sen. Annette Dubas of Fullerton, whose brother is gay, said he and other people like him are afraid to discuss who they are in the workplace. And she added "My brother doesn’t live in Nebraska. And he doesn’t live here because he doesn’t feel welcome. Can any of us say we’ve ever experienced that?" she asked.

Sen. Beau McCoy said the proposal would confront Nebraskans who disapprove of homosexuality with two bad choices. He said those were "Comply and desert your faith. Or resist and lose your job, or your small business."

Sen. Jeremy Nordquist cited faith in support of the proposal. "I cannot imagine how someone could take the teachings and the word of Christ and say that the right to discriminate against their fellow human, created in the image of God, is so fundamental, so core to their religion, that they can’t practice their faith without that right to discriminate," Nordquist said.

Sen. Bill Kintner argued the bill represents intolerance. "You know what the intolerance is? Using the heavy hand of government to force businesses to hire people that goes against their conscience. That’s the intolerance we’re talking about here," he declared.

But Conrad said the lack of antidiscrimination law is hurting Nebraska’s business climate. "You can pass however many tax incentive packages you want to. But you’re never going to attract the big fish – like Facebook and Google and those kind of companies that care deeply about inclusion, if you stand in the way of progress," she said.

Conrad said she thinks supporters have a majority, and are "working diligently" on getting the two-thirds they need to break the filibuster. The Legislature does not meet Friday. Debate on the issue will resume at 10 a.m. Monday. That means under the unwritten rule of eight hours of debate before attempting to end a filibuster, that attempt would come Monday afternoon.

Also on Thursday, Sen. Ernie Chambers fell two votes short in his second attempt to get senators to override Gov. Dave Heineman’s veto of Chambers’ proposed ban on hunting mountain lions. And Sen. Scott Lautenbaugh came up one vote short on his proposal to legalize betting on so-called historic horseracing. Lautenbaugh filed a motion to try again.

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