Lawsuit Alleges “Gay Only” Roommate Adverts Discriminate

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We’re not sure how many of you kids live in apartments, but finding a good roommate can be a real pain in the ass. We’re talking more painful than the worst case of anal warts – wait, do those hurt? We don’t really know. We assume they do. They certainly sound painful. But, we digress…

So, finding a chill roommate totally sucks – there are so many levels of compatibility, especially when you’re gay. You don’t want to be living with some KKK fool. That’d definitely put a damper on things. In fact, some of you may be more comfortable living with a big ‘mo. If that’s the case, you’ll probably list that in your wanted ad: a seemingly innocuous request that’s sparked a very interesting lawsuit in California.

The Fair Housing Council’s of the San Fernando Valley and San Diego has filed a lawsuit against Roommates.com, alleging that sexuality-related stipulations in ads are discriminatory. Edge Boston reports:

The suit alleges that advertising such preferences is, in fact, discriminatory and violates longstanding and sacrosanct federal Fair Housing statutes. The Fair Housing Council’s of the San Fernando Valley and San Diego against Roommates.com filed the suit. Although it has yet to be decided, both housing groups have been looking at Craig’s List ads as well.

According to the Ninth Circuit lawsuit, if a straight woman were to advertise that she is seeking a gay male roommate, it could be seen as potentially discriminatory towards applicants who aren’t gay males.

Certainly this deserves some serious attention.

Gay people face any number of discriminatory policies and attitudes – not least of all the great gay marriage debate – but does that mean they have the right to discriminate against others? Well, certainly not – no one has the right to discriminate, but that doesn’t mean it happens. But is it legal? Yes and no.

As homo-journo Cody Lyon writes in his piece, you have the right to choose your roommate, but it’s technically illegal to overtly oppose certain groups:

The 1968 Fair Housing Act has a provision called the “Mrs. Murphy” rule that allows owners who rent fewer than three units in homes they occupy some leeway in who they rent to. There are different rules for apartments verses roommates. And advertising throws an entire page of other glitches into the mix.

“If you live in your house where you have an apartment, you can pick and choose who you want in your apartment’ according to Betsy Herzog, director of public information at the New York City Commission on Human Rights. But once advertising is utilized, the rules change. “If I advertise that apartment, and I say that I don’t want a black, a Jew or a gay guy, that would be discrimination,” she noted.

So, the Fair Housing Council has a just case. The problem, however, lies in the fact that they’re looking to prosecute the website, not the posters: a hard case to be sure.

You see, back when the internet was a much smaller, far simpler place, officials passed the Communications Decency Act of 1996, an act which says websites, internet companies and the such cannot be held accountable for possible defamatory or discriminatory postings left by users. Thus, roommates.com can’t technically be found liable for the “gay only” adverts.

As Lyon points out, newspapers cannot legally post discriminatory requests. They can, however, post them on their websites. Ah, the hazy world of technologically-minded laws…

So, it seems the case will probably die a slow death. It does, however, raise questions of whether or not it’s right to seek out a socially-specific roommate. It seems to us that, no, it’s not right. On the other hand, however, you have to live with someone and, thus, want someone who can hang with your homosexuality – or whatever else it is you do. So, it’s not legally or morally right, but it’s an ugly necessity.

Those, of course, are just our thoughts. What say you?