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House kills gay rights bill

BISMARCK -- House members on Friday argued that outlawing discrimination against gays and lesbian North Dakotans would protect behavior that can be changed and which God abhors, then soundly voted down Senate Bill 2278.

The bill would have added sexual orientation and transgendered persons to the list of classes protected by the state's Human Rights Act from discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations.

The vote was 54-34 to kill the bill.

"There's a big difference between a behavior and a lifestyle and something you don't have a choice in," said Rep. Robin Weisz, R-Hurdsfield.

Weisz is chairman of the House Human Services Committee that heard the bill and recommended its defeat.

"I don't think it's needed. I believe it has consequences that aren't in the best interests of this state, that do intrude on the rights of others who are also protected under this great constitution," Weisz said.

Rep. Corey Mock, D-Grand Forks, one of the six sponsors of the bill, noted that 20 other states already have laws barring discrimination against gays and lesbians. In those places, he said, the laws do not grant special rights, privileges or legal immunity for sexual deviants, as some bill opponents have claimed would happen here.

"There is not a person in this chamber that is not related to or friends with someone that would be affected by Senate Bill 2278," he said. "That means people we know and love may be evicted, denied services or terminated because they are gay, straight, bisexual or transgendered with no regard or consideration of merit."

Mock and another co-sponsor, Rep. Kathy Hawken, R-Fargo, were among several bill supporters who noted how North Dakotans of all kinds came together in recent days to help others hit by or endangered by flooding.

"I'm relatively sure on one was checking the sexual orientation of the volunteer sandbaggers in Fargo. It simply didn't make a difference. People were just people," she said.

"It has been said that this is a choice," Hawken said. "Religion is also a choice but yet that's protected," she noted. "To make our constitution work, protection must be put in statute. Right now we can and do discriminate on our citizens based on sexual orientation."

Those who now actively protect the rights of gays and lesbians include 90 percent of the nation's Fortune 500 companies, Hawken said.

Other bill supporters noted that the state Human Rights Act also protects North Dakotans from discrimination based on their marital status, which is also a choice and not a characteristic of birth.

Several opponents cited religious beliefs

"It does violate what God wanted for this world," said Rep. Wes Belter, R-Mapleton.

Weisz and other opponents of the bill argued that the state constitution already gives gays and lesbians all the same rights that all North Dakotans have to free speech and voting, to hold office, "and have their day in court and everything else is protected the same as everyone else."

But to pass a bill protecting gays, lesbians and transgendered people's rights to jobs infringes on employers' rights to freedom of thought and expression in their own businesses, he said.

"Then their rights would supersede my rights," he said.