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Neb. bill prohibiting anti-gay employment discrimination faces resistance

Friday, April 4, 2014
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LINCOLN, Neb. — A bill that would protect Nebraska residents from employment discrimination based on their sexual orientation is facing resistance from some Nebraska lawmakers.

Lawmakers began debating the issue on Thursday before adjourning for the weekend.

Nebraska state capitol in Lincoln.

Nebraska state capitol in Lincoln.

The measure would ban employee discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. It would apply to public employees, government contractors and private companies with 15 or more workers. Religious organizations, including schools, would be exempt.

The bill was introduced and had a public hearing last year, but the Judiciary Committee just advanced the bill Monday with a 5-1 vote.

Sen. Danielle Conrad of Lincoln, who sponsored the bill, said passing it was a matter of fairness and justice.

“I believe that no one should be fired for who they are,” Conrad said. “No one should be fired for who they love.”

Current state law prohibits discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, disability, marital status or national origin. Neither state nor federal laws expressly protect people from discrimination for being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender.

The Omaha City Council narrowly approved an ordinance in March that bans employers, job-training programs, labor groups and other organizations from discriminating based on sexual orientation. The measure included exemptions for religious organizations. Grand Island city employees are also covered.

Sens. Beau McCoy of Omaha and Mark Christensen of Imperial each proposed 11 amendments on Monday in an attempt to kill the legislation. Christensen said opponents could use a filibuster to oppose the bill.

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McCoy said the bill would be a violation of people’s freedom of religion.

“In America and in Nebraska, I think people should be free to live and work according to their beliefs,” McCoy said.

The bill, he said, demands that Nebraskans chose between two “poison pills”: “Comply, and desert your faith; or resist, lose your job or your small business.”

But supporters argued that the bill would be good business practice.

Most Fortune 500 companies have this kind of policy in place, Conrad said.

Debate resumes on Monday.

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