LINCOLN — A bill to ban job discrimination against gay, lesbian and transgender Nebraskans failed in the face of a filibuster Monday.
But supporters of Legislative Bill 485 found reason to cheer at the outcome.
“I think overall this is a very good day for equal rights in Nebraska,” said State Sen. Danielle Conrad of Lincoln, the bill's introducer. “We brought the bill farther than it's ever been.”
Lawmakers voted 26-22 on a motion to cut off the filibuster on LB 485.
The vote fell short of the 33 needed to end a filibuster but was one more than would have been needed to advance the bill in the 49-member Legislature.
Sen. Amanda McGill of Lincoln, a supporter, predicted that Nebraska will pass such legislation in coming years. She said she has encouraged young people to keep fighting for anti-bias legislation.
“We may not have the votes to end the filibuster, but it's going to happen,” she said.
Sen. Jerry Johnson of Wahoo offered a similar prediction. But he voted against the bill, saying that now is not the time for it.
The director of Stay Equal Nebraska, a group advocating for the legislation, promised to continue working for anti-discrimination legislation.
“This debate is far from over,” said Chris Chapek. “We will not rest until all Nebraskans enjoy equal protection under the law.”
LB 485 paralleled a two-year-old Omaha ordinance banning employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. It would add to existing state laws barring bias based on race, color, religion, sex, disability, marital status or national origin.
The bill applied to private employers with 15 or more workers, as well as to public entities and state contractors. Religious organizations, schools and colleges were exempted.
Opponents said the measure would have trampled on employers' religious freedoms and put businesses at risk of lawsuits.
They said the exemptions for religious organizations and schools would not protect employers who are not part of religious organizations or schools but who have religious objections to homosexuality.
“Our state government should not be in the business of telling small-business owners who have religious objections to check their religious faith when they leave their home in the morning,” said Sen. Beau McCoy of Omaha, a Republican candidate for governor.
Others argued that employers should be able to establish standards for employees' sexual behavior, and questioned the need for the proposed legal protection.
Conrad and other supporters called the proposal a matter of ethics and good business.
She argued that it was the right thing to do because people should not be fired or passed over for promotions because of who they are or whom they love.
Others said the bill would have helped stem the state's brain drain and attract socially minded companies.
“It sends a positive message that Nebraska is open and welcoming,” Conrad said.
She said that she knew it would be an uphill battle to get the bill passed and that she was pleasantly surprised at the number of senators backing it.
Among them was Sen. Norm Wallman of Cortland, who said his views on the issue have changed. He acknowledged that he wouldn't have supported the bill seven or eight years ago.
In addition to Omaha, Grand Island and the University of Nebraska and state court systems have in place anti-bias policies or ordinances addressing sexual orientation.
Sixteen states, including Iowa and Colorado, have laws banning discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. Four other states prohibit bias based on sexual orientation only.