Bills would stop job discrimination against gays

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Associated Press

Posted on March 14, 2013 at 11:05 PM

Updated Friday, Mar 15 at 9:03 AM

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — A Nebraska resident told lawmakers on Thursday that he suspects he has been fired three times for being gay.

Lucas Peterson, 28, of Lincoln asked legislators to pass a bill that would prevent employers from discriminating against him and others based on sexual orientation.

Nebraska lawmakers listened to four hours of testimony on measures that would call for protection against discrimination of gay employees and gay couples looking to adopt children or become foster parents. The Judiciary Committee hearing was cut short at 5:30 p.m., with many people still wishing to testify.

Lincoln Sen. Danielle Conrad brought a bill that would ban businesses from discriminating against current or prospective employees based on their sexual orientation. Businesses with more than 15 employees, state and local governments, and employers holding state contracts would have to comply. Religious groups would not.

"I introduced LB485 because I believe no one should be fired for who they are and who they love," Conrad said. "This is a matter of justice. This is a matter of fairness."

Peterson said he was first fired shortly after he came out about his sexual orientation in college.

"He told me he doesn't condone my unmoral behavior and that I have a questionable character," Peterson said, referring to his then-boss.

Peterson said he was fired without notice from a Lincoln wine shop after he brought a date into the establishment on his night off work.

"The day after I was off the schedule," he said. "No notice. No acknowledgement. No response."

Todd Ruhter also said the legislation would provide him protection in the workplace.

"As a gay man, I am always at risk of losing my job," he said.

Religious groups, church leaders and residents spoke out against the bill saying they fear offering protections to gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people in the workforce will infringe on religious freedom.

Al Riskowski, executive director of the Nebraska Family Council, said providing protections for gays would create a special protected class. He said all other current protected classes are identified by race, gender or disability, which are clearly identifiable groups, while Conrad's bill would protect behavior.

"Protection of behavior is where many unintended consequences develop," Riskowski said. "When you create sexual rights you infringe upon on another individual's constitutionally protected rights of freedom of speech, freedom of religion and freedom of thought."

Nebraska's ACLU Legal Director Amy Miller disagreed with Riskowski, saying the measure doesn't create special rights. She added that all people have a sexual orientation and gender identification. The bill ensures that all Nebraskans have access to the same opportunities and protections, she said.

"Without these legal protections, members of the gay and transgender community are particularly vulnerable to unequal treatment," she said.

Omaha Sen. Jeremy Nordquist introduced a bill that would allow unmarried heterosexual couples, same-sex couples and transgender people to become foster parents. Another bill by Omaha Sen. Sara Howard would allow any two unmarried adults, including gay couples, to adopt a child.

"Virtually all valid research on parenting of gays and lesbians reported the same outcome that gay and lesbian parents are as capable and qualified as straight parents and their children are as healthy and well-adjusted as those raised by straight parents," Nordquist said.

In Nebraska, only one person in a gay or lesbian relationship can have rights over the child. The parent without rights is not allowed to adopt the child.

Dawn Cripe told lawmakers she cannot make legal decisions for her 3-year-old son because her partner is a woman. Cripe said she worries about not being able to make medical decisions or obtain custody of him if something were to happen to her partner.

"As a family, we are no different than any other family," she said.

Pamela Allen of Nebraska Foster and Adoption Parent Association said there are too many children in the foster care system without homes to turn away gay families who are willing to welcome the children into theirs.

"Children should not be denied of a loving family based on sexual orientation," she said.

Many of the same religious groups spoke out against Nordquist and Howard's measures.

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The bills are LB485, LB385 and LB380.

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