Homeowners shouldn't have to sell to gays, California congressman says

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., ignited controversy this past week after suggesting that homeowners should be free to refuse to sell homes to LGBTQ people.

Rohrabacher initially made the controversial remarks last week while speaking to a group of National Association of Realtors members who had congregated in his office. Members of the group were there to ask Rohrabacher to support HR 1447, a bill that would add sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of classes protected against discrimination in the Fair Housing Act (FHA) under the Civil Rights Act of 1968.

"I presented the Fair Housing Act to him along with [information on HR 1447]," Wayne Woodyard, one of the NAR members in the room, told NBC News. "Almost before I could finish, he let out, 'I will not support it.'"

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Rep. Dana Rohrabacher
Republican U.S. Representative Dana Rohrabacher speaks at a news conference in Moscow June 2, 2013. U.S. lawmakers on a mission to Russia said on Sunday they had found no evidence that an American intelligence error enabled the Boston bombings, but that closer cooperation between Washington and Moscow might have helped to thwart the attack, in which three people died and 264 were injured. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov (RUSSIA - Tags: POLITICS CIVIL UNREST CRIME LAW HEADSHOT)
Representative Dana Rohrabacher, a Republican from California, questions Mike Pompeo, U.S. secretary of state, not pictured, during a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, May 23, 2018. Pompeo said the U.S. wants North Korea to take 'credible steps' toward giving up its nuclear weapons program, a sign the Trump administration is backing away from demands that Kim Jong Un complete denuclearization before sanctions against his country are eased. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
SANTA ANA, CA - MARCH 27:Congressman Dana Rohrabacher at the Orange County Board of Supervisors meeting on March 27, 2018 in Santa Ana, California. (Photo by Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
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WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 01: (L to R) Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) and Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC) await the arrival of Thae Yong-ho, former chief of mission at the North Korean embassy in the United Kingdom, during a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on Capitol Hill, November 1, 2017 in Washington, DC. Yong-ho defected from North Korea in 2016. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
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BELMONT SHORE, CA.- JUNE 8: Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) speaks a press conference at the Belmont Veterans Memorial Pier as Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-CA) looks on, June 8, 2015 in Long Beach, California. Members of both parties spoke about the recent oil spill and clean-up issues. An oil pipe burst last month near Refugio State Beach, contaminating miles of shoreline in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties. (Photo by Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
PASADENA, CA - JULY 30: Dana Rohrabacher at Politicon at Pasadena Convention Center on July 30, 2017 in Pasadena, California. (Photo by John Sciulli/Getty Images for Politicon)

"There were about 10 people in his office, and we were all kind of shocked," he added. Woodyard said after Rohrabacher's initial response, one of his former staffers interceded and said, "Well, Dana, I don't think you understand," to which the Congressman said, according to Woodyard, "No, I do understand."

Woodyard said he and other NAR members "tried to change his opinion" the following evening at a private lobbying dinner, but the Congressman "wouldn't have it."

In an emailed statement sent to NBC News, a spokesperson for Rep. Rohrabacher confirmed the lawmaker's stance on the issue.

"Congressman Rohrabacher does not believe the federal government should force those with strong religious convictions into a personal or business relationship that is contrary to their religion," the spokesperson stated.

The NAR has since withdrawn its endorsement of Rohrabacher, who is up for reelection in November.

While there is currently no federal law that explicitly protects LGBTQ people from housing discrimination, 20 states and D.C. prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, and Wisconsin and New Hampshire prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation, according to the Human Rights Campaign.

"This is blatantly, explicitly illegal in the state of California," explained Karen Loewy, senior counsel at Lambda Legal, noting California is among the 20 states."It is really beyond the pale for an elected official to actively encourage illegal discrimination against LGBT people."

While nothing could prevent an individual from privately choosing not to sell their home to someone else for personal reasons, California's housing laws make it illegal to explicitly discriminate against someone due to their sexual orientation or gender identity. For example, a home seller in California wouldn't legally be able to include "Same-sex couples need not apply" on their housing ad. A home seller in Alabama, however, may be able to do so.

Loewy, however, said even in some states that do not explicitly protect LGBTQ people from housing discrimination, a number of courts have ruled discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity is illegal "sex" discrimination under the Fair Housing Act, which protects against "discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, or national origin."

Woodyard added that the Realtor code of ethics also prohibits agents from discriminating against LGBTQ people in home sales.

"A realtor can be sanctioned or lose their license for discriminating," he said.

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