Federal judge rules fair housing law protects Colorado LGBT couple
Tonya and Rachel Smith - Colorado couple denied housing (Photo: Lambda Legal)

A U.S. district judge ruled on Wednesday that a Colorado landlord’s refusal to rent a townhouse to a lesbian couple, one of whom is transgender, violates federal housing law, marking the second legal victory for LGBT people in as many days.

The ruling by Denver federal Judge Raymond Moore is the first in which a court has extended protections to people based on their sexual orientation or gender identity under the federal Fair Housing Act, lawyers for the couple said. The act bars housing discrimination because of race, religion and sex, among other factors.

The decision followed the Chicago-based 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling on Tuesday that the 1964 federal Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employees in the workplace.

The Colorado case stems from a 2016 lawsuit against property owner Deepika Avanti by Rachel and Tonya Smith, a same-sex married couple who sought to rent a house in a small town about 20 miles northwest of Denver.

The couple has two young children, and Rachel Smith is transgender.

After meeting with the couple, Avanti emailed the Smiths to say she would not rent to them over concerns about noise from their children.

In a subsequent email, Avanti said she and her husband wanted to keep a “low profile,” and feared that the Smiths’ “unique relationship” would attract unwanted attention, the judge’s ruling said.

“Such stereotypical norms are no different from other stereotypes associated with women, such as the way she should dress or act (e.g., that a woman should not be overly aggressive, or should not act macho), and are products of sex stereotyping,” Moore wrote in his 12-page ruling.

The back-to-back decisions marked “tremendous” victories for the LGBT community, said Omar Gonzalez-Pagan, an attorney with Lambda Legal, a gay-rights organization that represented the plaintiffs in both cases.

“It sends a strong message: discrimination against LGBT Americans in housing and employment is illegal and will not be tolerated,” he said in a statement.

Gonzalez-Pagan told Reuters that Lambda attorneys were working with Avanti’s lawyers to resolve the case.

Messages left for Avanti and her lawyers were not immediately returned.

Tonya Smith said in a statement the couple was “delighted” with the outcome.

“No one should ever have to go through what we went through, and hopefully this ruling will protect other couples like us who are trying to provide safe homes for their families,” she said.

(Editing by Patrick Enright and Tom Brown)