Federal Judge Allows Retirement Community to Reject Lesbian Couple

MARY WALSH BEV NANCE

A federal judge ruled a St. Louis retirement community has the right to say a married lesbian couple could not move in there together.

U.S. District Judge Jean C. Hamilton said the Fair Housing Act offers no anti-discrimination protections based on sexual orientation, reports the St. Louis Dispatch.

Mary Walsh and Bev Nance, who married in 2009, put down a $2,000 deposit in 2016 with their application to live at Sunset Hills, part of the Friendship Village in St. Louis. But Friendship Village then denied an application, stating the couple would violate a cohabitation policy that defines marriage as “the union of one man and one woman, as marriage is understood in the Bible.”

The women filed a lawsuit in federal court in July shortly after having their application rejected. They told the Dispatch that while touring retirement communities, they stopped asking whether they allowed same-sex couples because it seemed a settled question.

“Ms. Walsh and Ms. Nance were shocked to be turned away because of who they are and felt humiliated, stigmatized, and demeaned,” reads the couple’s federal lawsuit.

But Missouri has no state law protecting LGBTQ individuals from housing discrimination. Legal experts said the case could better establish whether the Fair Housing Act protected LGBTQ as well; Hamilton ruled it does not.

“Under (the) circumstances, the Court finds the claims boil down to those of discrimination based on sexual orientation rather than sex alone,” Hamilton wrote.

The ruling cites Eighth Circuit case law from 1990 that said “discrimination against homosexuals” was not prohibited.

But judges in other federal circuits have ruled otherwise.

In 2017, U.S. District Court Judge Raymond Moore sided with a Denver couple that said they had been denied housing by a landlord because one woman was trans. Moore determined the discrimination violated the Fair Housing Act prohibition on discrimination based on sex and familial status, according to The Washington Post.

The conflicting rulings in different federal court circuits potentially sets the stage for the issue to be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.

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