BLOG VIEW: During the past few weeks, President Obama has been at the center of a political dust storm after he voiced his personal support for the concept of same-sex marriage. While the president may not have a problem with two people of the same gender getting married, he seems to have a problem with that same couple trying to buy a house.
The Fair Housing Act, which was signed into law in 1968 and amended several times afterwards, is the federal statute that prohibits housing discrimination based on race, color, national origin, religion, gender, disability or family status. However, it does not offer protection to people based on their sexual orientation.
According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), approximately 20 states, the District of Columbia and more than 150 municipalities and counties have laws specifically prohibiting housing discrimination against individuals within the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community. Yes, do the math, and you'll realize that throughout most of the country, a person could be legally prohibited from purchasing a house based on his or her sexual orientation – and that person would not be able to seek redress through the courts.
After taking office in January 2009, President Obama made no public effort to encourage Congress to expand the Fair Housing Act to include LGBT Americans. One might have imagined this could have been achieved somewhere in the Dodd-Frank Act – which, of course, was co-authored by the nation's most prominent openly gay politician. But, alas, the notion of housing equality for LGBT Americans shared the same fate as government-sponsored enterprise reform and the creation of a U.S. covered-bond market – there was no room in the Dodd-Frank Act's 2,300 pages for its inclusion.
A few members of Congress are willing to fight this good fight. Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., has offered up an amendment to the Fair Housing Act that offers protection against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, as well as marital status and source of income. Kerry's bill currently has seven co-sponsors. Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., introduced a companion bill in the House of Representatives, and it has 10 co-sponsors. For its part, the White House has publicly ignored these efforts.
This is not to say that the administration has been completely hostile to the subject. In January, HUD announced a policy called ‘Equal Access to Housing in HUD Programs – Regardless of Sexual Orientation or Gender Identity,’ which requires owners and operators of HUD-assisted or -insured housing to make housing available without regard to the sexual orientation or gender identity of an applicant. HUD is instituting this policy in its rental assistance and homeownership programs, which include the Federal Housing Administration mortgage insurance programs, community development programs, and public and assisted housing programs.
HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan has also been proactive on the subject. Donovan has commissioned a national study to determine the depth of housing discrimination based on sexual orientation – I assume that the results will be released at the most politically expedient time – and he included coverage for the LGBT community in last year's HUD-sponsored Fair Housing Month activities. He also delivered speeches before the National Conference on LGBT Equality and the National Center for Transgender Equality that offered self-congratulatory accolades for the administration's alleged support of LGBT-related issues.
But not unlike his boss, Donovan has made no public effort to call for the congressional expansion of the Fair Housing Act to cover LGBT Americans. The changes to HUD policy did not require congressional approval, which is just as well, considering Donovan's diminished cred with many members of Congress.
Many people who oppose expanding the Fair Housing Act are under the impression that this action could be seen as an endorsement of the LGBT lifestyle. That is not correct – this is about allowing law-abiding, tax-paying, creditworthy U.S. citizens to acquire residential property without the fear of being refused the right to purchase for reasons that have absolutely nothing to do with the basic tenets of responsible homeownership. The Jeffersonian ideal of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness did not come with an asterisk that specified the omission of certain people – a fact that many people, at this very late date, still do not comprehend.
The Obama administration has, for the most part, been extremely uncomfortable in its relationship with the LGBT demographic. Even its most notable example – the repeal of the ‘Don't Ask, Don't Tell’ military policy – was slow-walked to the point that many people feared that it would never pass the 111th Congress. The president has instructed the Department of Justice not to defend the Defense of Marriage Act in federal court, but he will not give his voice to call for the law's congressional repeal. And his recent thumbs-up for same-sex marriage was bracketed with the insistence that this was strictly his personal view and that marriage laws would need to be decided by the states – the administration will not lead the charge on this issue.
I am looking forward to the day when real leaders will be able to correct this oversight in federal housing law and ensure that the last residue of acceptable discrimination is erased. And as for the subject of marriage, I will be the first to come forward and say that I firmly support the biblical concept of marriage: one man, 700 wives and 300 concubines. Well, hey, if it was good enough for King Solomon…
– Phil Hall, editor, MortgageOrb
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