Senator claims religious liberty is why it’s still legal to deny LGBTQ Virginians housing
It’s still legal to deny an LGBTQ person housing in Virginia after a committee failed to pass new legislation today and concerns over the measure violating religious freedom dominated the public debate portion of the bill’s hearing.
SB 917, which would have made it unlawful to discriminate in housing practices against someone for their sexual orientation and gender identity, was met with a tied vote, but not deferred to a later hearing.
“This is not an abstract problem, it occurs frequently all over Virginian,” said Senator Wexton, the Patron of the bill. ”Everybody should be treated equally, but unfortunately they are not.”
According to a nationwide study by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, same-sex couples experienced discrimination 16 percent of the time when seeking rental housing.
The HUD study found adverse treatment is found primarily in the form of same-sex couples receiving fewer responses to the e-mail inquiry than heterosexual couples, and while “no clearcut pattern exists in the magnitude of adverse treatment by metropolitan market size,” discrimination exists in all metropolitan areas.
The National Center for Transgender Equality found that one in five transgender people in the U.S. have been refused housing, and more than one in ten have been evicted because of their gender identity.
“A person’s sexual orientation and GI has nothing to do with if they’ll be a good tenant or neighbor, it has nothing to do with if they’ll pay their rent,” said Wexton before opening the General Laws and Technology Senate Committee floor open for public comment. “Those are really the factors that should go into housing decisions. We need to make VA a welcoming place… and as it is now, we’re behind the curve on this.”
And public comment came quick, with opposing voices often pointing to concerns of religious liberty being violated if this bill was passed.
Jeff Caruso with the Virginia Catholic Conference expressed concerns that the bill would apply to private entities, including faith-based companies.
“Given the diversity of views among different faith based organizations on marriage, each one of those organizations should have the ability to make decisions in accord with their beliefs about marriage and some organizations believe marriage is exclusively between a man and a woman,” said Caruso.
Chris Freund of the Virginia Christian group The Family Foundation said the bill could “open up private providers to unnecessary litigation and prove to be extremely costly to a lot of providers across Virginia.”
Before leaving the podium, Committee member Senator Dick Black (R-13) asked Freund if there was an argument about constitutional freedom coming from the passage of this bill.
“We’re telling people that, by force of law you must rent to someone in a circumstance that you consider immoral according to your religious beliefs,” said Black. “I’m just not sure the constitutional requirement shouldn’t override these other things… we still live under a constitutional form of gov and we are guaranteed a free exercise of religion.”
Freund agreed and said he believed there was a conflict between religious freedom and sexual liberty being fought in America’s legislative halls, calling the Senators the “last line of defense” for religious freedom..
“You’re seeing businesses that don’t want to participate in a same-sex marriage being forced to by government.”
Claire Guthrie Gastañaga, Executive Director of the Virginia ACLU, spoke in support of the fair housing bill. She said not passing this bill could come in conflict with federal regulations when it comes to military families looking for housing.
She also tried to clarify the repeated argument about this bill conflicting with constitutional protected rights. ”
“Freedom of religion is extremely important,” said Gastañaga. “But it is not a license to discriminate.”
Colgan - absent
Written by Brad Kutner and Victoria Zawitkowski, photo by Victoria Zawitkowski
“I am absolutely convinced in my discussions with the senator that religious liberty will be a lot better off in America with a Cruz administration.”March 28, 2016
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