Bill barring anti-gay housing discrimination fails

Lawmakers rejected a bill Monday that would have prohibited housing discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

The Louisiana House Commerce Committee voted 13-5 against the measure, which was the first in a package of gay rights bills proposed for consideration this session.

House Bill 804 would have added sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression and marital status to the Louisiana Equal Housing Opportunity Act’s list of factors that property owners cannot use to turn people away for housing.

HB804 sponsor Rep. Jared Brossett, D-New Orleans, said New Orleans and Shreveport have similar ordinances governing housing. Brossett said the rate of homelessness for gay youth is twice that of youth in general.

“No one should be made homeless under any circumstance,” he said.

James Perry, executive director of the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center, spoke on behalf of the bill, saying it would improve access to housing and promote equality. He said discrimination against gays seeking housing is currently legal in Louisiana.

Opposition to Brossett’s bill came from religious leaders and social conservatives.

Tommy Middleton, director of the Baptist Association of Greater Baton Rouge, criticized the proposal as creating a special status for gay people and violating property owners’ right to maintain community standards.

Kathleen Benfield, representing the conservative Louisiana Family Forum, described the measure as unnecessary.

“It’s a solution in search of a problem,” she said.

Not all religious leaders who attended Monday’s hearing opposed HB804, however.

The Rev. Jim VanderWeele, of Community Church Unitarian Universalist in New Orleans, said he supported the proposal because it pushes equal rights for everyone.

“I’m motivated by love for all people ... and so I’m here in support of this legislation,” he said.

Colin Miller, representing the gay rights organization Forum for Equality, said Brossett’s bill wasn’t about getting special treatment but about ensuring all Louisianians can have a roof over their heads.

Brossett, who is leaving his legislative seat in May for the New Orleans City Council, said he won’t seek another hearing on his bill this session.

VOTING AGAINST DISCRIMINATION PROHIBITIONS (13): Committee Chairman Erich Ponti, R-Baton Rouge; and State Reps, Stuart Bishop, R-Lafayette; Thomas Carmody, R-Shreveport; Hunter Greene, R-Baton Rouge; Lance Harris, R-Alexandria; Joe Harrison, R-Napoleonville; Kenny Havard, R-Jackson; Paul Hollis, R-Covington; Katrina Jackson, D-Monroe; Jay Morris, R-Monroe; Stephen Ortego, D-Carencro; Stephen Pugh, R-Ponchatoula; and Gene Reynolds, D-Minden.

VOTING FOR HB804 (5): State Reps. Kenny Cox, D-Natchitoches; Herbert Dixon, D-Alexandria; Marcus Hunter, D-Monroe; Vincent Pierre, D-Lafayette; and Edward Price, D-Gonzales.