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Minneapolis Realtors defend same-sex marriage

Trade group: Equal access to housing and property rights at stake

Citing its potential to have a detrimental effect on housing markets and economy as a whole. a Minnesota-based Realtor association has taken a public stance against a proposal to amend the state’s constitution to recognize only marriages of opposite-sex couples as valid.

Same-sex marriage is already illegal in Minnesota under a 1997 law. But a constitutional amendment would make it harder to overturn that law, because another statewide vote making gay marriage legal would be required.

Currently, the law could be overturned by the state Legislature or by a judicial ruling, as was done in Iowa in 2009, for example.

The Minneapolis Area Association of Realtors, which has nearly 7,000 members, said the proposed constitutional amendment would have a "negative impact on equal access to housing and property rights in Minnesota" and "would enshrine an inherent unfairness and system of inequality, specifically related to housing and homeownership, into the Minnesota Constitution."

"Our association leadership believes this issue strikes at the heart of our organization’s commitment to fair housing, a strong code of ethics and equal opportunities for all," said Mark Allen, MAAR’s CEO, in a statement.

"The rights and privileges of homeownership extend beyond the actual sales of a home, and passage of this amendment would deepen the inequality of access to those for couples (whose) unions are not legally recognized."

In a resolution adopted by MAAR’s board of directors in June, the trade group noted that MAAR and its members had championed changes to Article 10 of NAR’s Code of Ethics in 2010 and 2012 to add sexual orientation and gender identity to its list of protected classes.

"A culture of openness and acceptance is vital to a healthy real estate industry, and overall economy, in the Twin Cities," MAAR said.

Minnesota voters will determine the fate of the proposed amendment today. If passed, the amendment could prevent future homebuyers from considering moving to the area and to the state overall "as we may appear as unwelcoming and exclusionary, or possibly even biased and discriminatory," the MAAR resolution said.

"Further, this proposed amendment does a grave disservice to our current LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) residents, who will be made to feel unwanted in their state, potentially pushing them to leave Minnesota in search of more inclusionary communities."

While same-sex couples are not currently prevented from buying or selling real estate in the state and the amendment will not prevent them from doing so in the future, the trade group said non-legally married couples do not have the same access to the benefits and privileges of shared homeownership that married people do.

"Married couples are granted immediate legal rights to their shared homes and property, while those who are prevented from marrying have to undergo lengthy and costly legal procedures to be granted the same rights," the resolution said.

"Separate but equal is not fair under our country’s founding principles. Furthermore, in some cases, non-legally married couples may never be able to reach the same level of benefit and privilege that married couples are already granted."

Rob Hahn, managing partner of real estate consulting firm 7DS Associates, noted that MAAR is exploring new territory in taking a stand on something that has been considered a controversial "social issue" out of the usual purview of trade groups.

"No matter how fervently one believes in a particular cause, and can establish a connection to housing, is there such a thing as ‘that ain’t a housing issue’ for a Realtor association? If so, what is the principle that would govern whether an association should or should not take a stance?" he asked in a blog post.

He said MAAR would either prove a pioneer or a pariah by taking this step.

"Either a whole lot of local and state Realtor associations will start taking positions on ‘social issues’ connected to housing, or they will all resolutely refuse to get involved with anything that isn’t directly on point to real estate, transactions, and housing," Hahn said.

"For example, I wonder what the Phoenix-area Realtor associations think about Arizona’s anti-illegal immigration legislation, since that has a far more direct impact on housing, home values, and rental rates than does same-sex marriage."

The move could also prove brilliant and unite MAAR’s membership or disastrous and cause rifts in the membership, Hahn said. He said that there is no mechanism or procedure to resolve conflicts among local or state associations and suggested the National Association of Realtors explore setting up such a mechanism for resolving political conflicts at their annual meeting in Orlando, Fla., this week.

"One can very easily imagine the California Association of Realtors coming out in support of same-sex marriage, while the Alabama Association of Realtors would oppose it. Until now, there has been little reason to think that either would come out with an official position on a ‘social issue,’ but … things done changed," Hahn said.

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