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House lawmakers defeated a bill Friday that would have expanded fair housing and employment protections to gays and lesbians.

Opponents to the bill said that sexuality is a behavioral choice that should not be tied to other protected classes such as race, gender, disability and religious beliefs. The House voted 54-34 in opposition.

Rep. Robin Weisz, R-Hurdsfield, said defining sexual orientation as a protected class under North Dakota statutes would mean people who believe that homosexual orientation is wrong, including himself, would be unable to express their religious or moral beliefs.

"Sexual orientation is not something that you're born with, that you have no choice in," Weisz said. "If you're born black, you can't wake up one day and say, 'I'd really like to be white.'"

Supporters said the legislation is needed because discrimination does happen in North Dakota when it comes to sexual orientation, even if it's not openly done. About 20 other states have similar protections for gays and lesbians in their laws.

"There is not a person in this chamber that is not related to, or friends with someone that would be affected by SB2278," said Rep. Corey Mock, D-Grand Forks. "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."

Kevin Tengesdal, a Bismarck graphic designer who is gay, said Friday's vote "shatters hope," and that some of his friends who are homosexuals are thinking twice about staying in North Dakota.

"It's something that I've always known all my lie," Tengesdal said of his sexuality. "I cannot see it as being a choice. It's who we are, who the infinite creator made us to be."

Religious groups testified in opposition to the bill, saying that it would restrict First Amendment rights for those who say homosexuality is morally wrong.

Rep. Wesley Belter, R-Leonard, said his religious convictions played a role in his opposition.

"I certainly do not approve of the gay movement," Belter said. "I really think it violates what God wants for man."

Human rights groups as well as homosexuals testified in favor of the bill before lawmakers last month, telling them that the state needs to treat all people equally regardless of what happens in their private life.

They said under current North Dakota law, gays, lesbians and transgendered people would be unable to legally challenge an employer who fired them because of their sexuality.

"If you vote against SB2278, you are saying it's OK to discriminate against someone based on sexual orientation," said Rep. Jasper Schneider, D-Fargo. "This is North Dakota; we should hire and fire people based on their merits, on who they are, not what they are."

Rep. Dan Ruby, R-Minot, said employers do not have to give a reason for firing employees in North Dakota.

"To say that voting against this bill is a vote for discrimination, I reject," Ruby said.

Sen. Tom Fiebiger, D-Fargo, introduced the legislation, which passed the Senate last month 27-19.

"I'm disappointed for the folks who are still going to have to go into a work environment and can be fired because they're gay or evicted because they're gay," said Fiebiger, whose son is gay.

He added, "I'm convinced that this is going to pass, it's just a matter of when � this is the way the country is heading."

(Reach reporter Brian Duggan at 223-8482 or brian.duggan.) @bismarcktribune.com

How they voted

State representatives defeated SB2278 on Friday in a 54-34 vote. The bill would have added sexual orientation to fair housing and human rights protections. The vote largely came down to party lines, with very few lawmakers crossing the aisle:

Yeas: 34

Democrats: 29

Republicans: 5

Bill Amerman, D-Forman

Merle Boucher, D-Rolette

Tom Conklin, D-Douglas

Kari Conrad, D-Minot

Lois Delmore, D-Grand Forks

Mary Ekstrom, D-Fargo

Eliot Glassheim, D-Grand Forks

Chris Griffin, D-Larimore

Ed Gruchalla, D-Fargo

Lyle Hanson, D-Jamestown

Kathy Hawken, R-Fargo

Richard Holman, D-Mayville

Nancy Johnson, R-Dickinson

Lee Kaldor, D-Mayville

George Keiser, R-Bismarck

Scot Kelsh, D-Fargo

Jerome Kelsh, D-Fullerton

Joe Kroeber, D-Jamestown

Bob Martinson, R-Bismarck

Ralph Metcalf, D-Valley City

Corey Mock, D-Grand Forks

Phillip Mueller, D-Valley City

Lee Myxter, D-Fargo

Kent Onstad, D-Parshall

Lavonne Pietsch, R-Casselton

Louis Pinkerton, D-Minot

Louise Potter, D-Grand Forks

Arlo Schmidt, D-Maddock

Jasper Schneider, D-Fargo

Elwood Thorpe, D-Minot

Ben Vig, D-Aneta

Lonny Winrich, D-Grand Forks

Lisa Wolf, D-Minot

Steven Zaiser, D-Fargo

Nay: 54

Republicans: 50

Democrats: 4

Larry Bellew, R-Minot

Wesley Belter, R-Mapleton

Rick Berg, R-Fargo

Randy Boehning, R-Fargo

Mike Brandenburg, R-Edgeley

Al Carlson, R-Fargo

Donald Clark, R-Fargo

Charles Damschen, R-Hampden

Duane DeKrey, R-Pettibone

Jeff Delzer, R-Underwood

David Drovdal, R-Arnegard

Mark Dosch, R-Bismarck

Rod Froelich, D-Selfridge

Bette Grande, R-Fargo

RaeAnn Kelsch, R-Mandan

James Kerzman, D-Mott

Lawrence Klemin, R-Bismarck

Glen Froseth, R-Kenmare

Patrick Hatlestad, R-Williston

Craig Headland, R-Montpelier

Brenda Heller, R-Beulah

Curt Hofstad, R-Devils Lake

Bob Hunskor, D-Newburg

Dennis Johnson, R-Devils Lake

Karen Karls, R-Bismarck

Jim Kasper, R-Fargo

Keith Kempenich, R-Bowman

Robert Kilichowski, D-Minot

Joyce Kingsbury, R-Grafton

Matthew Klein, R-Minot

Kim Koppelman, R-West Fargo

Gary Kreidt, R-New Salem

William Kretschmar, R-Venturia

Lisa Meier, R-Bismarck

Dave Monson, R-Osnabrock

Michael Nathe, R-Bismarck

Jon Nelson, R-Rugby

Chet Pollert, R-Carrington

Todd Porter, R-Mandan

David Rust, R-Tioga

Michael Schatz, R-New England

Bob Skarphol, R-Tioga

Gary Sukut, R-Williston

Ken Svedjan, R-Grand Forks

Blair Thoreson, R-Fargo

Dan Ruby, R-Minot

Gerry Uglem, R-Northwood

Don Vigesaa, R-Cooperstown

Frank Wald, R-Dickinson

John Wall, R-Wahpeton

Robin Weisz, R-Hurdsfield

Dave Weiler, R-Bismarck

Alon Wieland, R-West Fargo

Dwight Wrangham, R-Bismarck

Absent or not voting: 6

Republicans: 3

Democrats: 3

Tracey Boe, D-Mylo

Stacey Dahl, R-Grand Forks

Robert Frantsvog, R-Minot

Shirley Meyer, D-Dickinson

Darrell Nottestad, R-Grand Forks

Clark Williams, D-Wahpeton

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