Photo by Unicameral Update
Sen. Adam Morfeld introduces his bill to the judiciary committee.
Under current law, Nebraskans are protected from employment discrimination on the basis of race, religion, sex, marital status, handicap and age. But they're not protected from employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Lincoln Sen. Adam Morfeld wants to change that.
"The time for this protection has not only come, but it has passed," Morfeld said of his bill, LB 173, at a legislative hearing Wednesday, Feb. 22 that attracted dozens of supporters and opponents.
Sexual orientation refers to homosexuality, heterosexuality or bisexuality. Gender identity refers to the appearance, expression, identity or behavior that might be different from the individual's sex at birth.
Morfeld said Omaha adopted a 2012 ordinance protecting employees based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The city has faced no litigation under the ordinance and local businesses have seen no negative impacts, he said.
“No one should be fired for who they are or who they love, but judged based on the quality of their work,” he said.
In an age where young adults are attracted to large cities and leaving smaller communities at increasing rates, Morfeld said Nebraska has an obligation to remain competitive in the 21st century.
Some employers and leaders of business organizations expressed concern about losing hard workers to states with workplace protection laws such as LB 173 already in place. Mothers of gay and transgender individuals said they have watched their children flee because of their discomfort in Nebraska.
Danielle Savington, a mother of a member of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer (LGBTQ) community, told the Judiciary Committee, "Our children are leaving because they are not willing to stay in a place where their friends are not welcome."
Savington said her daughter's goal is to leave Nebraska and a find a career elsewhere.
Abby Swatsworth of Outlinc, a Lincoln-based nonprofit that advocates for the LGBTQ community, said many people contact her organization when they're considering moving to Nebraska, wanting to know if the state is a safe place for their family. Other witnesses opposed the bill, arguing that it would infringe on employers' religious beliefs.
Karen Bowling, the executive director at Nebraska Family Alliance, said she was asked by many people to testify against the bill. Bowling said the religious traditions of many people say that marriage can only be conducted between a man and a woman.
Other witnesses argued against the bill, saying they believe sexual orientation and gender identity are choices and are not deserving of special legal protection.
Opposing the measure was Jack Phillips, a Colorado cake shop owner. Phillips was sued for refusing to produce a cake for a same sex wedding because it conflicted with his religious beliefs. The Colorado law under which he was sued, he said, is similar to LB173.
“The government’s actions have forced me to lose 40 percent of my business,” Phillips said. “Regardless of your viewpoint on marriage, shouldn’t we all agree that the government shouldn’t force us to speak or act in a way that violates our religious convictions?”
Information from the Unicameral Update contributed to this report. The Unicameral Update is the official news report of the Nebraska Legislature.