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Top Stories This Week in the Chronicle.
May 4, 2007

Iowa is the second state to pass LGBT rights this year

Colorado is soon to be the third

Des Moines--The Iowa House of Representatives approved an anti-discrimination measure protecting LGBT people on April 25, with the state Senate giving its concurring vote later that evening.

The bill was sent to the desk of Gov. Chet Culver, who has promised to sign it into law. It outlaws discrimination in employment, housing, education and credit practices.

Iowa joins Oregon, which passed a measure two weeks ago protecting the rights of its LGBT citizens. Colorado is also expected to give final passage to a job discrimination bill by week’s end.

The Iowa bill, which includes transgender people in its definition of sexual orientation, now returns to the Senate for a concurrence vote on changes the House made to it.

The measure faced some stiff opposition in the Iowa House of Representatives. Minority leader Rep. Chris Rants, a Republican, tried to pull members of his party from the voting, which would have forced virtually every Democrat in the chamber to approve the legislation for it to pass.

However, the majority Democrats invoked a parliamentary measure that required all representatives to be present behind a locked door and vote on the measure. This drew nine Republicans across the aisle to vote in support of the equal rights statute.

The House added an amendment specifying that the legislation was not an indication that the opposite-sex definition of marriage enshrined in state law was no longer valid.

Even with that change, Rep. Beth Wessel-Kroeschell said that the bill is useful to the people of Iowa.

“It’s about ending discrimination. It’s time to extend civil rights protections to all Iowans,” she said. “Businesses and big companies are way ahead of the state on this. Businesses know that employees are more productive when they are secure in their jobs.”

The measure passed the House of Representatives on a 59-37 vote, and the Senate then concurred on a 36-14 vote.

When Culver signs the bill into law, Iowa will join 18 other states and the District of Columbia with anti-discrimination protections on the basis of sexual orientation, and Iowa will be the 11th to protect on the basis of gender identity. (The Colorado measure would bring that to 20 and 12, respectively.)

Ohio is not among these states, although 11 cities have local measures, similar to the nine Iowa cities that already had them. No federal law protects LGBT people from discrimination.

“We are extremely proud that the state legislature has made it clear that discrimination against LGBT Iowans will no longer be tolerated,” said ACLU of Iowa executive director Ben Stone. “All people deserve the same ability to work and support themselves and their families and to live free of discrimination.”

“This law guarantees that Iowans will be judged on their abilities rather than their sexual orientation or gender identity,” Stone concluded.

Sandy Vopalka, the board president of Equality Iowa, reflected on the long struggle to pass the rights law.

“Many people over the last 18 years have worked to pass this bill, some of them no longer with us, and their presence was felt during the votes yesterday,” Vopalka said. “For the first time in my life, I finally feel welcome in the state of Iowa.”

House Speaker Rep. Pat Murphy was very choked up, having been in the House of Representatives when a similar measure failed by a single vote in 1992.

“I was probably a little tired and a little emotional,” Murphy said.

He told the Mason City Globe Gazette, “I didn’t think I’d be here 15 years later to see it pass.”



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