The Fair Housing Act, passed as part of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, protects renters and home buyers from a variety of discrimination based on everything from sex, race, and national origin to religion, marriage status, and pregnancy. But until Wednesday of this week, no court had extended those protections to include lesbian, gay, or transgender people.
That all changed when a federal court in Denver ruled that sex discrimination under the Fair Housing Act includes discrimination based on gender and sexual orientation, including discrimination motivated by outdated stereotypes about how men and women should act and with whom they should romantically partner.
Rachel Smith, a transgender woman, and her wife Tonya Smith attempted to rent a townhouse for themselves and their two children in Boulder, Colorado, but were denied, according to their lawsuit, because the landlord did not approve of their "unique relationship." In a ruling their lawyer believes is the first of its kind, the court found that LGBT renters are protected from such discrimination under federal law.
"This is the first case under the Fair Housing Act dealing with gender identity where there's been liability found for discrimination based on stereotypes," Omar Gonzalez-Pagan told the Washington Post. "It demonstrates the importance of bringing these cases. Housing discrimination is a significant unreported problem" for LGBT people.
The district court's ruling mirrored one issued a day earlier by the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago. There, the court ruled that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibits employment discrimination based on sexual orientation. Both courts found that sexual stereotyping is a form of sex discrimination, and therefore illegal under federal statutes that bar discrimination based on "sex." In doing so, the courts relied on a 1989 Supreme Court case holding that male partners and managers discriminated against a female employee when they said she needed to "walk more femininely, talk more femininely, dress more femininely, wear make-up, have her hair styled, and wear jewelry" in order to advance.
In the Smith's case, U.S. District Judge Raymond P. Moore wrote, "Such stereotypical norms are no different from other stereotypes associated with women, such as the way she should dress or act (e.g., that a woman should not be overly aggressive, or should not act macho), and are products of sex stereotyping." Such sexual stereotyping is illegal under federal law, and therefore the landlord's refusal to rent to the Smith's based on their relationship violated the Fair Housing Act.
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- Understanding Your Rights: Housing Discrimination (FindLaw's Learn About the Law)