It was standing room only Thursdy for three legislative bills on same-sex rights during a Judiciary Committee hearing.
More than 100 people came to hear two bills on adoptions by same-sex couples and a third bill that would extend employee protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation.
LB 385, sponsored by Sen. Jeremy Nordquist of Omaha would protect same-sex couples, transgender and unmarried couples from discrimination by the Department of Health and Human Services when they apply to become foster parents.
Nebraska had 3,000 foster children in out of home care as of Jan. 6 and the LB 385 increases the available homes for those children, Nordquist said.
Sen. Sara Howard of Omaha sponsored LB380 that would allow unmarried couples, including same-sex couples, to adopt a child.
“For children, lack of legal recognition of their family has dangerous implications,” she said.
They can’t be assured the financial benefits from their second parent, including health insurance, a variety of benefit programs, wrongful death cases and inheritances. The best interest of the child should trump all other interests under child and family law, she said.
Opponents of the LB380 and 385 said the bills would create an unstable life for children because the parents aren’t married.
Sen. Brad Ashford of Omaha said the same-sex couples want to do to what society wants, to have a family and a loving relationship.
“I’m just struggling with what the badness is there,” he said. “It would seem to me we would want to promote that sort of thing.” The high divorce rate might be related to more violence, he said.
Ashford cut off the hearing with about 10 opponents waiting to testify, which concerned the last testifier, Nancy Russell, opposed to LB380 and LB385.
“I guess I’m a little appalled that these three of the most important issues before this Legislature this year are jammed into one afternoon,” she said. “I don’t feel that the voice of the people has been heard.”
Citing research by a professor at the University of Texas, she said same-sex couples negatively affect children they might raise. She would support LB385 if it also had an exemption for religious groups.
Ashford, chair of the Judiciary Committee, had to call order twice as Chambers spoke.
“We have a lot of Christians in this room and they do not respect the rules that we have and I’m accustomed to that,” Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha said, after getting booed for asking a testifier who said he used to be gay, and now has a wife and children, if he enjoyed the time he was actively gay.
“There are no public outbursts in these hearings, please,” said Sen. Amanda McGill of Lincoln.
As the hearing focused on testimony for LB485, a crowd member said, “Am I wrong, or does this seem like a filibuster?” during a back and forth between Chambers and Edward Stringham, a Lincoln psychologist.
LB485, sponsored by Sen. Danielle Conrad of Lincoln, would ban businesses from discriminating against current or potential employees because of their sexual orientation. Chambers introduced a similar bill in 2007 that lost by a 24-15 vote. Society changed since Chamber’s bill by becoming more open to gay rights, notably with the repeal of the military's don't-ask-don't-tell policy, Conrad said.
Her bill would not apply to religious groups, but opponents of it said it still violates their U.S. and Nebraska constitutional rights for freedom of religion.
Kellie Fiedorek, an attorney for the Alliance Defending Freedom, gave an example of a case in New Mexico where a similar non-discrimination law was passed.
A photographer refused to take pictures of a same-sex couple because she didn’t want to support their behavior and was sued.
Supporters of LB 485 said the bill encourages more people to work in Nebraska if they don’t have to fear discrimination.
The common ground is to have young people grow up healthy and educated, Ashford said. Laws are trying to reflect a common sense of fairness in society, he said.
“If a gay couple wants to have a family and be able to adopt kids and be able to work and have the freedom to work,” Ashford said, "I think that’s a standard we ought to put in our law.”