Tuesday Speed Read: Supreme Court, Nebraska, Chai Feldblum, Peter TerVeer, Annise Parker
The U.S. Supreme Court declined Monday to review a decision by the New Mexico Supreme Court that said the state human rights law does not violate the free speech rights of a wedding photographer who refused services to a same-sex couple. By not taking the case, Elane v. Willock, the Supreme Court leaves intact the state court ruling that said businesses that “choose to be public accommodations must comply” with the non-discrimination law. The photographer had claimed that she had religious beliefs that compelled her to refuse accommodations to the lesbian couple, and the case was viewed as one of many disputes heading to the U.S. high court that pitted religious beliefs against non-discrimination laws. But the case was never pitched as a free exercise case and that may be why the Supreme Court didn’t take it, said Lambda Legal Senior Counsel Jenny Pizer. Tobias Wolff, an attorney helping represent the lesbian couple, said, “No court in the United States has ever found that a business selling commercial services to the general public has a First Amendment right to turn away customers on a discriminatory basis.”
NEBRASKA COMES CLOSE:
Nebraska’s unicameral legislature voted 26 to 22 Monday to move a bill prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity to the floor. Unfortunately, supporters of the measure needed 33 votes to break the filibuster. The legislative session ends this week and local papers give little chance that the bill’s supporters might get the bill to the floor this year. The sponsor of the bill, Sen. Danielle Conrad of Lincoln, vowed to continue the push even though the state’s term limits won’t enable her to come back next session.
EEOC ON THE JOB:
Chai Feldblum, the openly lesbian member of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), told National Public Radio April 2 that the commission has “about 200 or so pending investigations right now that have been brought to us by LGBT people, and we're looking into those charges.” Feldblum noted the EEOC used to turn away LGBT complaints because there is no federal law prohibiting such discrimination. But she said the Commission is now looking into the complaints as forms of sex discrimination, which is prohibited by federal law. Whether the EEOC has authority to do so, she noted, will probably be determined at the U.S. Supreme Court.
SPEAKING OF SEX DISCRIMINATION:
A U.S. district court judge in Washington, D.C., entered a preliminary ruling April 4 in favor of a man who alleges he was fired from his federal job because he is gay. The order says the man, Library of Congress employee Peter TerVeer, can sue under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act –the title that, among other things, prohibits sex discrimination. The government’s brief in the case, Terveer v. Billington, is due June 3.
HOUSTON’S PARKER GETS HEAT:
Houston Mayor Annise Parker is being criticized for preparing to propose a human rights ordinance that would prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation in housing and public accommodations but not in private employment. In her annual State of the City address April 3, Parker noted that Houston is “the only major city in the nation without civil rights protections for its residents.” She is expected to introduce the bill in May, and LoneStarQ says LGBT leaders expect the bill will not prohibit discrimination in private employers, as a way to ensure the bill passes city council. The head of the Houston GLBT Political Caucus told the Texas LGBT paper the omission amounts to “siding with the right of employers to discriminate.”
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