Republican Congressman Dana Rohrabacher says it’s OK to not sell homes to gays; loses support of Realtors

The National Association of Realtors withdrew its political endorsement of U.S. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher this week because he opposes the extension of fair housing protections to gays and lesbians.

The Orange County congressman’s stance, the 1.3-million-member trade group said, is contrary to NAR’s code of ethics, which bans discrimination on the basis of “sexual orientation or gender identity.”

Previously Rohrabacher had been designated as a “Realtor Champion” and had been on NAR’s “President’s Circle,” a list of candidates the association recommends members support financially.

Realtors Political Action Committee, the trade group’s campaign finance arm, also donated $5,000 to Rohrabacher’s re-election campaign in December and January, campaign finance reports show.  Rohrabacker also received donations from numerous other agents, real estate developers and Realtor groups.

But NAR dropped him from its “President’s Circle” after the 15-term GOP congressman told an Orange County Association of Realtors delegation on May 16 that he opposes extending the 50-year-old Fair Housing Act to gays and lesbians.

“Every homeowner should be able to make a decision not to sell their home to someone (if) they don’t agree with their lifestyle,” former OCAR President Wayne Woodyard quoted Rohrabacher as saying in the meeting.

“After reviewing all new, relevant information, it was determined that Rep. Rohrabacher will no longer receive support from NAR’s President’s Circle,” a NAR statement to the Southern California News Group said Thursday, May 24. “The association’s member Code of Ethics is far ahead of Congress on gender identity and sexual orientation discrimination. We certainly hope that Congress will … support the elimination of housing discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.”

The announcement comes as Rohrabacher is locked in one of his toughest re-election campaigns. He’s facing 15 challengers, including eight Democrats as well as onetime political ally Scott Baugh, former Orange County GOP chairman.

“It certainly can’t do me any good to have people take me off their endorsement list,” said Rohrabacher, who represents California’s 48th District in coastal Orange County. “It’s sad to see (NAR’s) priority is standing in solidarity with making sure a stamp of approval is put on somebody’s private lifestyle.”

Rohrabacher added that he’s not “anti-gay” and vehemently opposes similar discrimination based on race, religion or a person’s sex.

But, he said, “there are some fundamentalist Christians who do not approve of their lifestyle. I support their rights.” He also said he believes NAR’s stance is “way out of sync” with its own industry.

“A person who owns their own home, they have a right to choose who they do business with,” Rohrabacher said. “We’ve drawn a line on racism. But I don’t think we should extend that line.”

Orange County Realtors met last week with Rohrabacher during NAR’s mid-year lobbying conference in Washington and asked him to support H.R. 1447, among other issues.

The measure expands the Fair Housing Act passed in 1968 to add anti-discrimination protections based on a person’s sexual orientation and gender identity. The existing law already forbids home sellers, landlords and lenders from discrimination based on a person’s race, color, religion, sex or national origin.

Rohrabacher’s remarks sparked outrage among gay and lesbian Realtors after Woodyard posted them on FaceBook, prompting the founder of a real estate gay-rights group to send a letter to NAR President Elizabeth Mendenhall calling on the group to revoke its support of Rohrabacher.

“When a supposed champion of the Realtor Party outright states that housing discrimination should be lawful, I hope you agree there should be cause for concern,” wrote Jeff Berger, a Florida agent and founder of the National Association of Gay & Lesbian Real Estate Professionals. “Ignoring the congressman’s comments belies the decades of serious work and progress NAR has made in the area of fair housing.”

In his phone interview with SCNG, Rohrabacher denied he’s trying to shore up his conservative flank in the face of opposition from Baugh. Indeed, he said, his stance likely will “alienate a certain number of gays who think I’m anti-gay, which isn’t the case.”

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Rohrabacher distinguished race-based discrimination from government interference with a homeowner’s right to choose whom he or she does business with.

He said, for example, homeowners shouldn’t be allowed to deny a sale to an inter-racial couple.

But he agreed Democrats or Republicans can refuse to do business with people with opposing political views.

Would Rohrabacher, who uses a medical marijuana cream to ease his arthritis and supports relaxed penalties for pot use, be OK if a home seller refused to do business with him based on that lifestyle choice?

“Yes,” Rohrabacher said. “Absolutely.”

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