There's no federal law prohibiting anti-LGBTQ discrimination by homeowners — and Rep. Dana Rohrabacher wants to keep it that way. At a recent closed-door meeting with realtors, the GOP lawmaker said LGBTQ people shouldn't have housing discrimination protections, and that homeowners should be allowed to refuse to sell their homes to gay and trans people. Rohrabacher made the comments in mid-May, according to BuzzFeed News, and later confirmed to the Orange County Register that this is indeed his position on LGBTQ housing rights.
“We’ve drawn a line on racism, but I don’t think we should extend that line [to LGBTQ people],” Rohrabacher told the Register. “A homeowner should not be required to be in business with someone they think is doing something that is immoral."
After his position became public, Rohrabacher lost the endorsement of the National Association of Realtors, which told BuzzFeed News that withdrawing its support from the California Republican is "the right thing for NAR to do."
According to Wayne Woodyard, a regional vice president for Berkshire Hathaway, Rohrabacher initially made the comments in response to a question at a meeting with realtors about a proposed law that would ban anti-LGBTQ discrimination in the housing sector. Woodyard tells BuzzFeed that when he finished asking the question, Rohrabacher "just came unglued" and said that "it should be every homeowner's right to decline to sell a home" to an LGBTQ person.
Housing discrimination against LGBTQ people is not a thing of the past. An investigation by the Urban Institute found that landlords in Texas, California and Washington D.C. were less likely to inform LGBTQ-presenting people of available units in their buildings, and quoted them with higher average yearly costs. That investigation also found that landlords were more likely to schedule housing inspections for transgender than cisgender tenants.
LGBTQ rights groups promptly denounced Rohrabacher for his comments. The Human Rights Campaign called his stance on housing law "unconscionable," while Equality California said that Rohrabacher's "full-throated endorsement of discrimination is just one more reason that Rohrabacher doesn’t deserve to represent Orange County in Congress.” Hans Keirstead, one of two Democrats running against Rohrabacher, told RollCall that his remarks were "bigoted and hateful, period," and "can’t be excused away by a generation gap or the Congressman's eccentricities."
Rohrabacher's loss of the NAR endorsement is significant: The organization had previously encouraged its 1.3 million members to support his campaign, and even donated $5,000 of its own money to his campaign, according to Roll Call. In his comments to the Register, Rohrabacher said the NAR's withdrawal of its endorsement is "sad," and criticized the organization for "making sure a stamp of approval is put on somebody’s private lifestyle."
A former speechwriter for Ronald Reagan, Rohrabacher has served 15 years in Congress, and usually wins reelection easily. But political handicappers now say his 2018 reelection is a toss-up: His district voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016, and he faces 15 challengers in his primary.
Rohrabacher's comments on housing discrimination are not at odds with his general record on LGBTQ rights; previously, he's voted for a constitutional amendment to ban same sex-marriage, and also supported a bill that would prohibit gay couples from adopting. In his comments to the Register, Rohrabacher denied being "anti-gay," though he acknowledged that his comments on housing rights will "alienate a certain number of gays who think I’m anti-gay."
Prior to his comments about LGBTQ discrimination, Rohrabacher came under scrutiny for his close ties to the Russian government. In a closed-door conversation that was recorded and leaked to the Washington Post, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy told his Republican colleagues in 2016 that he thinks Rohrabacher is being paid by Russian President Vladimir Putin. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan immediately responded McCarthy's remarks should stay "off the record," explaining that "what happens in the family stays in the family."