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Top Stories This Week in the Chronicle.
January 6, 2006

New equality laws take effect in three states

Sacramento--Three states� new equal rights laws have taken effect, expanding the scope of protections for LGBT people.

In California, four laws went into effect on New Year�s Day.

The Civil Rights Act of 2005 adds sexual orientation and gender--which includes gender identity--to non-discrimination laws affecting public accommodations, including malls, bars, restaurants, schools, medical and dental offices, hotels and condominium associations. The two factors are already included in employment and other nondiscrimination laws.

The Insurance Gender Non-Discrimination Act bars insurance companies from using gender as a deciding factor in creating or maintaining insurance policies, making California the first state to bar insurance discrimination against transgender people. Taken with the Civil Rights Act of 2005, it makes California the most trans-friendly state in terms of its laws, according to the National Transgender Advocacy Coalition.

Another law allows the death benefits for public employees who retired before 2005 to be paid to their domestic partners. Public employees who retired after January 1, 2005 are covered under the state�s sweeping domestic partnership law.

The final new statute treats domestic partners as spouses for title changes in property, lowering the tax burden for transferring a title.

In Illinois, a trans-inclusive LGBT antidiscrimination law also took effect on January 1.

�I�m hoping people won�t need to rely on the law, but in instance where someone is denied housing or a job, they have an avenue to take that they couldn�t before,� said Tim Pierce, president of a gay equal rights organization in Joliet and a university professor.

Many Illinois residents were already covered by county or city ordinances, especially in the Chicago area. The new law, however, extends protections to the smaller cities and towns across the state.

Four days before the laws in California and Illinois took effect, Maine�s embattled equal rights bill became law, after withstanding an attempted �people�s veto� in the November general election.

The law was passed last summer, but implementation was halted when a successful petition drive forced a referendum on the measure.

After the rights law was upheld by voters with 55 percent of the vote, backers of the repeal said that they would switch their efforts to a constitutional amendment barring same-sex marriage.

With the new additions, 16 states now have equal rights laws covering sexual orientation, and seven with gender identity. Ohio does not have a law covering either.

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