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Nebraska city backs anti-bias protection for gays

OMAHA, Nebraska (Reuters) - Lawmakers in Omaha, Nebraska narrowly approved anti-discrimination protections for gays and transgender residents on Tuesday, a little over a year after a similar measure failed to pass.

Omaha's city council voted 4-3 to incorporate sexual orientation and transgender status into a law that already prohibits discrimination based on race, religion, and marital status.

Jim Suttle, the mayor of Nebraska's largest city, pledged to sign the ordinance into law, saying it reinforced Omaha's welcoming reputation and was good for business.

"Omaha has been outside the mainstream of what other cities do and the policies and practices of the country's largest corporations," said Michael Cole-Schwartz, spokesman for the Human Rights Campaign, a gay civil rights advocacy group.

"The passage of this kind of ordinance sets down a marker that says discrimination isn't allowed here," Cole-Schwartz said.

Hannah Buell of the Nebraska Family Council, a group opposed to gay marriage and abortion rights, said the ordinance represented another case of government infringing on religious liberty.

"It legislates morality in the public sphere. It says your private religious opinion is wrong, when you operate in public," Buell said.

The ordinance exempts churches but not church-run organizations, said Buell, who spoke out against the ordinance at a Omaha City Council hearing last week.

An opponent of the ordinance said it may be challenged, either in court or in the legislature of the conservative state.

Nebraska voters in 2000 overwhelmingly passed a constitutional amendment that defined marriage as a union between a man and woman and that did not allow for same-sex civil unions.

(Reporting by Mary Wisniewski and Andrew Stern; Editing by Paul Simao)

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