US LGBT+ retirees lose round in housing battle but legal war continues

By Benjamin Long

NEW YORK (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – A U.S. lesbian couple rejected for admission to a retirement community suffered a defeat this week in their effort to claim discrimination, but a leading legal group on Friday vowed to take up the fight to protect LGBT+ people from housing bias.

Bev Nance and Mary Walsh, married for a decade, sought to live in Missouri’s Friendship Village but were told their marriage was “not in accordance with biblical principles,” according to the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in St. Louis.

Marriage means “the union of one man and one woman,” according to the Friendship Village policy cited in the case.

The couple fired back, accusing the retirement community of discriminating on the basis of their gender.

A federal court this week sided with the retirement community, ruling it was not a case of gender discrimination and dismissing the case.

The case could be considered discrimination based on sexual orientation, but that is not illegal under federal fair housing laws, the ruling said.

The couple is consulting with lawyers and weighing their next step, according to their attorney.

But Lambda Legal, a New York group that argues on behalf of LGBT+ rights, said it will challenge the existing law and help protect LGBT+ people in Missouri and other nearby Midwestern states, it said.

A ruling by a Midwestern federal appeals court 30 years ago said the fair housing law did “not prohibit discriminations against homosexuals.”

“It would be delightful if the court said it was overruling” the decision, Greg Nevins, a senior attorney at Lambda Legal, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Longtime residents of Missouri, Nance, 68, a retired math teacher, and Walsh, 72, a retired business manager, have been together for almost four decades.

They married in the state of Massachusetts in 2009, according to their lawsuit.

Fewer than half the U.S. states – 21 – explicitly protect LGBT+ people from housing discrimination, according to the Human Rights Campaign, an LGBT+ rights group.

“This is sex discrimination, and it is against the law,” said Michael Adams, head of Senior Action in a Gay Environment (SAGE), a non-profit organization advocating for elderly LGBT+ people.

“The fact that a federal court thinks otherwise and has ruled that the federal Fair Housing Act does not protect an older same-sex couple just underlines that much more must be done to protect LGBTQ older people from bias and mistreatment as they age,” Adams told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

(Reporting by Benjamin Long; Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst ((Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org) (Benjamin.Long@thomsonreuters.com)

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