On March 18th we reported that Omaha had just passed the “Equal Omaha” law, prohibiting employment discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. There is no such federal or Nebraska law, so that Omaha would be the only place in the state with such a civil rights law.

Now comes news that at the urging of conservative state senator Beau McCoy, the state Attorney General (who is, not coincidentally, running for a US senate seat) has issued an opinion that “Nebraska statutes do not authorize political subdivisions in Nebraska, including municipalities, to expand protected classifications beyond the scope of the civil rights classifications created in state statute.” The City of Omaha appears to be willing to ignore this opinion and defend the law in court.
On May 14th, a similar ordinance will be voted on by the city council in Lincoln, Nebraska.  Lincoln Mayor Chris Beutler, citing the state motto, “equality before the law,” stated at a recent news conference that “The basic issue here is fairness. No one should fear losing their job because of sexual orientation.”

He said that “it’s time to make those words ring true for everybody.”

It is indeed interesting that when federal civil rights laws are contemplated, opponents argue that these issues should be decided “locally.” But when they are decided locally, they do a deft pivot and argue that the decision is up to politicians in the statehouse. Opponents of civil rights laws have disguised their substantive opposition to civil rights by making this “states rights” argument since well before the Civil War, and bank on it succeeding in a world with a global economy that no longer resembles 1860.