Bills on sexual orientation discrimination draw a crowd

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March 14, 2013 - 6:10pm

Supporters and opponents of bills dealing with sexual orientation in employment, foster care placement, and adoption packed a public hearing at the Capitol Thursday

The three bills drew strong support and opposition from people who in some cases stood in line for more than an hour for their chance to talk for three minutes for or against the measures.

Tami Lewis-Ahrendt of Lincoln recounted some of the advice she and her wife received about how to disguise their relationship in order to increase their chances of getting a foster child.

"If we wanted to pursue foster care, we could not acknowledge that we were in any type of committed relationship. We were told to lie. We were given advice on how we could arrange our home to make it more appealing and less gay. We needed to make sure there would never be any indication, at least not anywhere visible, that we were a couple. We should definitely make it look like we had separate bedrooms," she recounted. "It was obvious that foster care would not be an option for the two of uswho were both committed to honesty in our lives, our work and our families."

James Michael Bowers of the National Association of Social Workers supported allowing two unmarried people, regardless of sexual orientation, to adopt. One of the questions in front of us today is not ‘Why should the state of Nebraska allow two adults to jointly adopt a child?’ but ‘Why would the state of Nebraska want to deny a child such a privilege in having lifelong connections with another supporting adult?" Bowers said. "Allowing two adults to jointly adopt a child helps ensure that children have access to private health care, a sense of normalcy, and the ability to stay in the home during the times of unfortunate circumstances such as a parent death."

And Todd Ruhter of Grand Island said Nebraska employers have a lot of freedom on whom to hire because this is a right-to-work state. "I maintain that as a gay citizen and employee I am due a similar consideration -- a right to access and maintain gainful, productive employment," he said. LB485 does not extend special rights to gay and lesbian Nebraskans or me," he said.

"It provides the opportunity for me and the over 80,000 gay men and women in this state to be judged by the quality of our contribution to the economy and our society through our dedicated efforts in the workplace, not by supposition and mistaken opinions about our qualifications based on our personal lives."

Many opponents of the measures said their position was based on their religious beliefs. Among them was Mark Ashton, lead pastor of Christ Community Church in Omaha.

"If this LB485 passes, then people would not be allowed to truly express their opinions in the marketplace. It would be considered creating a hostile work environment in order to have a strong moral ethic when it comes to your sexual ethics," he said. "Under LB485 one set of opinions would be considered to be illegal. And that infringes on our freedom of religion and freedom of speech when it comes to the marketplace environment."

Martha Rawls said that as a Christian, she opposes all three bills. "Happiness of mankind and stability of human society centers around and (is) based upon the home. God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve, or Eva and Eve. And his marching orders are to be fruitful and multiply. And that goes for everyone," she said. "We have people that are not sure what they want to be – male or female. God decided that."

And Kellie Fiedorek of the Alliance Defending Freedom, a national legal group, told senators that forbidding employment discrimination based on sexual orientation could put people in a quandary. "This bill if enacted would give many of your constituents a choice no one should ever have to face: either violate their conscience, or face legal action, fines, even jail time," she said.

"This bill exposes businesses to liability for making decisions based o something as simple as spousal benefits. LB485 could force individuals or organizations, in violation of their sincerely held religious beliefs, to extend the same employment benefits their employees’ same-sex partners that they give to married spouses of the opposite sex."

The committee took no immediate action on any of the bills.

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