Federal Judge Rules Fair Housing Law Protects LGBT Couples

A U.S. district judge recently ruled that a Colorado landlord’s refusal to rent to a lesbian couple, one of whom is transgender, violates federal fair housing law. The ruling is the first in which a court has extended protections to people based on their sexual orientation or gender identity under the federal Fair Housing Act. The act bars housing discrimination because of race, religion, and sex, among other factors. The married couple who brought the case were denied a rental home along with their two children by a landlord who gave as a reason their “unique relationship,” they claimed in court.

In his opinion, the judge cited the Supreme Court’s 1989 ruling in Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins, an employment discrimination case. The justices held that bias against a woman judged insufficiently feminine, among other things, by male employers was a form of sexual stereotyping and therefore fit the definition of “sex” in Title VII, the law barring job discrimination.

Here, the judge 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” [Smith v. Avanti, April 2017].

While the Fair Housing Act may be invoked if a housing provider discriminates based on nonconformity with gender stereotypes, housing providers that receive HUD funding are explicitly prevented from discriminating on this basis by HUD’s Equal Access Rule, which requires equal access to HUD programs without regard to a person’s actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity, or marital status.