I believe protections in housing and public accommodation at the local level were the building blocks for protections at the State and Federal level.<quoted text>
I'm sure at the federal and state level and many local levels that one cannot refuse service or housing to someone because they are black, Jewish, female, old, disabled, etc. so while it may be best to start at the local level and also a local issue and every local step is a step further toward equality it would also be a federal and state issue as well. Eventually it would have to go through the courts and federal government because otherwise it will take decades to win equality for LGBT in every town, city, and county (I believe the courts and Congress was the way to equality for blacks and women otherwise they'd have to wait another 20 years.). I'm sure if ENDA passes it will pave a way much faster to equality in housing and public accommodations.
The basic protections for race, color, creed, religion and national origin were the standard groups listed throughout the nation, though in most cases race and skin color were added to existing laws that protected against discrimination based on religion, and national origin. You're too young to remember but when race, sex or disability was added I never heard people complain that these groups were piggy backing off the civil rights work of others, like we hear so often nowadays. Ever hear anyone on Topix complain about how blacks piggy backed off the Irish or Italians or the Catholics and Jews?
I think in this country it was national origin and religion that first sought protection in employment, housing and public accommodation because of xenophobia and antisemitism. Remember in the movie "Auntie Mame" when the Upson's were explaining to Mame how they wanted to buy the lot next door as a wedding gift because in part it wasn't 'restricted' and they wanted to make sure 'the wrong kind' didn't move into the neighborhood?
On a side note I was working for the National Federation of the blind during the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The NFB was very insistent that language be included that would allow the individual the right to refuse special accommodations. They wisely saw that for people with disabilities it would be very easy for them to still face discrimination with public accommodations; all the hotel had to say was, "sorry we don't have anymore 'handicapped rooms' available". One can very easily see that it's easy to change 'handicapped room' to 'room for coloreds'.
I think we are close to the point where there will be national laws that cover discrimination in the areas of employment, housing and public accommodations, partly due to what we in the GLBT community accomplish. But I think what will really tip the balance is the current effort by the religious right to use religion as justification for practicing discrimination. Once people see the absurdity of claiming religious freedom as a means to practice religious discrimination, the idea of equal treatment will finally crystal clear to us as a nation.