Supporters of on-the-job protections for Nebraska's lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender workers are making their latest run at the Legislature.
On Tuesday, more than 100 people rallied in the Capitol Rotunda to urge passage of a bill that would prohibit workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
The measure would help the state address its workforce crunch, they said, showing Nebraska is "open for business."
The rally came as lawmakers prepared to debate the bill, introduced last year by Lincoln Sen. Adam Morfeld.
Employers are desperate for talent, said Linda Dugan, vice president at the La Vista-based Internet payment company Paypal. She said Morfeld's bill addresses a business, economic and human rights issue.
"Paypal furiously and passionately supports this legislation," she said, drawing cheers from the crowd.
The Lincoln and Omaha chambers of commerce support the bill, as do several of the state's major employers.
But Greg Schleppenbach, executive director of the Nebraska Catholic Conference, said the bill's proponents have presented no evidence that such workplace protections result in economic growth.
"If you're going to throw a definitive claim or assertion out like that ... give us some evidence," he said.
Gov. Pete Ricketts called the measure "unnecessary."
"We've got current law that already covers this," the governor said during an unrelated news conference Tuesday, although he did not elaborate.
Morfeld said the governor's claim is "simply not true."
"I would ask him to point to the laws," Morfeld said.
Brandi Bosier, a transgender woman who owns a lawn service company in Hastings, said she knows of businesses that have avoided Nebraska because of its low rankings on national surveys regarding LGBT protections.
She said while businesses are generally becoming more accepting, "religion is stepping over the boundaries."
LGBT allies and some religious groups have sparred in recent years as nationwide recognition of gay rights comes in conflict with longstanding religious practices.
Earlier this year, Sen. Mark Kolterman of Seward introduced a bill to protect Nebraska's faith-based child welfare organizations from losing state funding if they decline to work with LGBT people who want to become foster parents.
Opponents of the workplace protection bill (LB586) say it would force business owners to employ people whose lifestyles conflict with their religious beliefs.
"We all agree arbitrary discrimination is wrong," Nebraska Family Alliance said in a news release following Tuesday's rally. "This bill would exchange the consistent kindness and tolerance of Nebraskans for a law that would use the full force and weight of the government to punish those who hold different beliefs on marriage and sexuality."
The Rev. Jim Keck of First-Plymouth Congregational Church in Lincoln said Morfeld's measure isn't just a bill, "It's an appeal to our better selves."
He pointed to two Biblical teachings: that God created man in his own image and that Christians should "love thy neighbor as thyself."
"This is what my Bible tells me," Keck said.