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Would expand Fair Housing Act to cover gender identity and sexual orientation

Currently, the federal Fair Housing Act prohibits housing discrimination based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, familial status, or disability, but that could soon change thanks to a newly introduced bill backed by several prominent Senate Democrats.

The bill, the Fair and Equal Housing Act of 2017, would expand the Fair Housing Act to cover gender identity and sexual orientation as protected classes.

The push to expand the protections of the Fair Housing Act is being led by Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Virginia, who spent much of his pre-political career as a fair housing attorney.

Also backing the bill are Sens. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisconsin; Chris Van Hollen, D-Maryland; Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass; Maggie Hassan, D-New Hampshire; Patrick Leahy, I-Vermont; Kirsten Gillibrand, D-New York; Ron Wyden, D-Oregon; Ed Markey, D-Mass, Al Franken, D-Minn; Jeff Merkley, D-Oregon; Corey Booker, D-New Jersey, Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn; Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nevada; Sheldon Whitehouse, D-Rhode Island; and Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio.

The legislation is a companion bill to a similar bipartisan action introduced in the House of Representatives earlier this year by Reps. Scott Taylor, R-Virginia; and Brad Schneider, D-Illinois, which is still in subcommittee.

Adding gender identity and sexual orientation as protected classes would ensure equal housing opportunities for all Americans, Kaine said.

“As a former civil rights attorney who focused on fair housing, I learned that a house is more than just an object. It’s part of the very definition of who you are as a person and is central to every American’s life,” Kaine said.

“Because of incomplete protections in federal housing law, LGBT Americans can face discrimination when they try to buy or rent a home, just because of who they are,” Kaine added.

“This is about equality, and no American should be turned away from a home they love because of who they love,” Kaine said. “I would like to thank Rep. Taylor for his leadership on this issue, as well as all the civil rights attorneys out there fighting for justice on this issue every day.”

Of the bills, Taylor said that expanding the Fair Housing Act would ensure equal protection for all Americans.

“This bill protects and codifies a fundamental American principle: fairness, respect, and equal treatment under the law,” Taylor said. “Nobody should face discrimination about where they live because of who they love.”

Adding the federal protections is critically important, according to the Human Rights Campaign, which bills itself as “the nation’s largest civil rights organization working to achieve equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer Americans.”

Currently, only 20 states along with the District of Columbia explicitly outlaw housing discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, while another two states ban discrimination based on sexual orientation.

“This patchwork of protections leaves millions of LGBTQ people vulnerable,” the Human Rights Campaign said.

In a statement, Human Rights Campaign Government Affairs Director David Stacy celebrated the bill.

“In far too many places across the country, LGBTQ people are at risk of being denied housing or kicked out of their homes just because of who they are,” Stacy said.

“What side of a state line you live on should not determine your ability to find a place to live without fear of discrimination,” Stacy added. “We thank Senator Tim Kaine for his continued leadership working to end unjust discrimination against LGBTQ people.”

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