Social Change and LGBTQ Housing Discrimination: Interpretations of the Impact of Obergefell v. Hodges on Local Fair Housing Ordinances

Joyce Clapp, CHCS Research Associate at the Southern Sociological Society

Social change has proven rarely to be a neat and orderly process of evolution, especially as it concerns civil and human rights. This paper observes the recent changes and challenges of LGBTQ housing equality in the United States.  According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) sexual orientation and gender identity are not yet protected classes for home seekers under constitutional amendments or federal law, though recent HUD rules established under the administration of President Obama disallow LGBTQ discrimination in any housing transaction involving federal funds. This still leaves many LGBTQ home seekers vulnerable to discrimination in typical home-buying or rental markets. In this paper, we will document the history of Fair Housing laws as they pertain to sexual orientation, gender identity, and sexuality and examine how social change has occurred as both  “bottom-up” and “top-down” processes. We will demonstrate that prior to Obergefell v. Hodges, some particularly progressive states, counties, and municipalities enacted Fair Housing ordinances providing protection from housing discrimination for these statuses especially as marriage equality become a more mainstream political and social issue. For example, in January 2015, five months before the historic Supreme Court ruling providing legal rights to marry in all states, Greensboro, North Carolina became the first city in the state to add protection from housing discrimination for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender homeseekers .  Yet, much like the evolution of marriage equality laws before, LGBTQ Fair Housing rights have been considered to be a local matter more than a federal one, and protection has been both piecemeal and inconsistent from place to place.