Over the past decade, there have been numerous studies documenting discrimination against LGBTQ+ Americans attempting to secure homeownership or rental housing.
Today, it is not uncommon for LGBTQ+ homebuyers to face real estate professionals who do not wish to represent them and sellers who will refuse to consider them for a purchase transaction. These homebuyers have also faced hostility from members of neighborhoods who do not want themmoving in.
Today, 27 states do not have local laws that specifically prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. As a result, an LGBTQ+ individual within one of these states could be refused the opportunity to purchase a home or obtain a mortgage. This would leave them with no legal recourse in the state courts.
The Equality Act
On February 25, 2021, the House of Representatives passed the Equality Act, which would amend the 1964 Civil Rights Act. This would guarantee federal protection against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, and cover areas including housing, employment, credit, education, and public accommodations.
The House passage came in a 224 to 206 vote, with all Democrats and three Republicans voting in its favor. Passage in the senate is not guaranteed — at least 10 Republicans will need to show support to avoid a filibuster and allow it to reach the senate floor for a vote. No senate Republican has spoken out in support of the Equality Act. However, President Biden said he would sign the bill if it passed both chambers of Congress.
The Biden administration has been trying to mitigate this situation through executive orders and agency policy updates that use the 2020 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Bostock v. Clayton County. Their hope is to widen the anti-discrimination coverage to include LGBTQ+ Americans.
While these actions are commendable, they offer no guarantee of permanence. After all, President Biden’s initial days in office were spent abrogating executive orders signed by his predecessor. One can easily imagine a Biden successor with a different agenda erasing his executive orders.
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Looking to the future
Not only is it crucial to have solid laws that clearly prohibit discrimination, but it is vital to have LGBTQ+ representation in the real estate industry to ensure such behavior is not tolerated.
The residential real estate market was one of the relatively few sectors of the U.S. economy that was not dented by the economic tilt of the pandemic. And while there have been some challenges within the market, particularly a shortage of inventory in some areas, it has nonetheless offered a dynamic element to an environment struggling under unprecedented circumstances.
As participants in this strong and sturdy industry and as continuous wave of Americans eager to have a property to call their own, LGBTQ+ Americans play an important role in housing. It is incumbent for both real estate agents and homebuyers to be cognizant of how federal law is evolving and to push back against effort that would deny basic civil rights to any individual, especially the right to housing.