Gay Couples Face Housing Discrimination More Often

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Tuesday August 30, 2011

A recent Canadian study indicates that gay couples and single parents are more likely to face discrimination when house hunting, News Medical reported on Aug. 29.

The study was conducted by researchers at the University of British Columbia. The study looked at the Vancouver metropolitan area and used the rate of discrimination faced by heterosexual couples as a baseline.

Researchers found that gay couples and single parents had a commonality in that they were likely to face discrimination by landlords. Of the two groups, gay couples were worse off, encountering bias 25% more than heterosexual couples were. Single parents encountered bias 15% more often.

But the two groups encountered different patterns of discrimination. In neighborhoods with more single parent households, single parents looking for housing were more likely to encounter bias -- but gay couples experienced less discrimination when they looked to rent in areas with a higher concentration of same-sex households.

"For gay couples, the discrimination is likely based in ignorance or moral objections that lessen with contact. For single parents, the discrimination may be based more on their real economic marginalization," said Nathanael Lauster, a sociologist and the study's lead author.

The study's authors fear that rates of discrimination might be even higher in other cities.

"Vancouver has a reputation for tolerance of diversity in North America and a vibrant gay community," Lauster said. "This means that housing discrimination levels may even be higher in other cities."

The article noted that Vancouver has laws in place to protect gays and single parents from just such discriminatory treatment in the housing market.

"The research, published in the August issue of the journal Social Problems, is the largest investigation of housing discrimination towards single parents, and the first to the explore geographic variation in their discrimination," the article said.

Equality advocates said the results point to a need that they will need to address.

"We've long been active with government [on housing issues] with LGBT youth and LGBT seniors," said the head of Qmunity, Jennifer Breakspear, "but now it looks like we have to throw into the mix gay [male couples] as well," an Aug. 26 article at Canadian GLBT news site Xtra! said.

"We all know Vancouver is a tight place to find a place to live," Breakspear continued. "Throw in landlord bias, and you make it almost impossible."

"The 2006 census data suggests Vancouver has more than 4,700 same-sex couples, representing approximately 10 percent of same-sex couples in Canada," the Xtra! article noted.

Anti-gay discrimination in the United States has long been recognized, and many cities and states have laws barring the practice. Despite such laws, however, there are indications that gay couples face prejudice when looking to rent.

A 2007 study conducted in Michigan "uncovered widespread discrimination against same-sex couples," a report prepared and released by Michigan Fair Housing Centers noted.

The report, titled "Sexual Orientation and Housing Discrimination in Michigan," recounted how 120 "paired testers" were dispatched to try to secure housing around the state. The testers introduced themselves as "life partners," the study said, and even though they were "provided better credentials -- higher income, larger down payment, better credit --†in comparison to their counterparts," they encountered significant discrimination from landlords.

The study noted that Michigan was not one of the 17 states that, at that time, had laws on the books to protect sexual minorities from bias in housing, although a number of cities did have GLBT-inclusive anti-discmination ordinances.

Local ordinances offering enhanced protections that exceed those provided in state law are not always permitted. Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam signed legislation earlier this year that state lawmakers had approved, stripping local governments of the power to offer greater protections.

Haslam signed the bill with no prior announcement and little fanfare on the evening of May 13. That same day, the Human Rights Campaign issued a media release blasting the move.

"Since there are no state protections for sexual orientation or gender identity, the Governor's signature of this bill becomes a green light for anti-LGBT discrimination across the state," the HRC release noted.

An anti-gay Montana introduced a similar bill earlier this year, but it failed to pass the state's legislature. The bill, sponsored by Republican State Rep. Kristin Hanson, would have taken GLBT non-discrimination laws out of the purview of local governments by outlawing such ordinances by cities. A colleague, State Rep. Michael Morre, offered a tangled rationale for the measure.

"You introduce things in one city, you can do things differently in another city, you can do things in another town differently from that. If that is what you want, if you want to go down the road that can ultimately lead to one place then sure let's not pass this ordinance," said Morre. "But we need, this is what we do in here, we try to put things into the context of the whole."

A similar sentiment in Colorado two decades ago led to Amendment 2, the notorious anti-gay constitutional amendment that voters ratified in response to municipalities instituting protections for GLBT residents. The U.S. Supreme Court struck down the amendment in 1996. However, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals twice reaffirmed a virtually identical amendment adopted by the city of Cincinnati and applied to the city's charter in 1993. Cincinnati residents themselves struck the amendment to the city charter in 2004.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.