One of the most politically sensitive issues likely to come before Nebraska’s state senators this session will be Legislative Bill 627. As proposed, it would ensure that workers couldn’t be fired or discriminated against because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
It’s an issue that has come up in previous sessions and state senators have chosen not to pass such legislation.
This session, state Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks of Lincoln has chosen to draw considerable attention to LB627. Each morning on the legislative floor this session, the sponsor of the bill has stood up and repeats this message before she opens on the actual subject at hand:
"Good morning (or afternoon), Nebraskans. Our state's unique motto is 'Equality Before the Law.' So know that whoever you are, wherever you are on life's journey and whomever you love, we want you here. You are loved."
The state motto was established in the 1860s and has to do with the principle that every person must be treated equally by the law and all are subject to the same laws of justice. It's inscribed near the north entrance to the state Capitol, on Nebraska's flag and seal.
This is certainly the senator’s prerogative to do so. There’s no doubt she’s passionate about this topic. And it’s true that with every new session of the Nebraska Legislature, one can’t presume that the will of the majority in the past — like those who haven’t been in support of extending workplace protection on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity — remains in place today.
Every business group and many politicians are fighting to keep youthful workers in the state, said Sen. Pansing Brooks, who wants to ensure that includes those who refer to themselves as LBGT.
"It's really important to let people know that they are loved. We want them here. ... I try to find the good in every single person," she has said.
But here’s our objection, which we believe is shared by many Nebraskans. This kind of an argument seems to imply that anyone who disagrees with LB627 supporters is somehow uncaring, cold-hearted and perhaps homophobic.
The reality is that now — as in the past — there are valid business-focused arguments for why there are those who believe such a law isn’t needed in Nebraska. A state senator who may ultimately vote against LB627 this session shouldn’t be stereotyped in this manner.