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Public gallery in support of SB2279

Members of the public wore stickers to voice support for SB2279 and largely filled up the public gallery in the House chamber on Thursday to observe the debate and final vote on the bill.

Following 90 minutes of emotional debate, nearly two-thirds of the North Dakota House voted to kill a bill Thursday banning discrimination based on sexual orientation. Similar bills in 2009 and 2013 also failed.

Remaining steadfast, members of the state’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community said the bill’s time will come one day and the bill will return in 2017.

“How are they so deaf to the cry for justice?” said Bismarck resident Kevin Tengesdal, who said the 35-56 vote went as anticipated but it still upset him. 

Tengesdal said the debate brought visibility to the issue and eventually North Dakota will come around.

“We won’t remain quiet,” Tengesdal said.

Senate Bill 2279 failed before a packed gallery of supporters looking on. The Senate's 23 Democrats were joined by 12 Republicans voting for the bill, which would have banned discrimination based on sexual orientation in the workplace, housing and government services. Current state law prohibits discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, physical or mental disability and marital status. The bill provided exemptions for religious organizations and social clubs.

At the beginning of the debate, part of the bill was split to remove language on public accommodations and public services; this part of the bill was quickly defeated by a 30-61 vote.

Rep. Thomas Beadle, R-Fargo, said the public’s opinion is changing on gay rights issues and the public’s support for the issue will eventually win.

“To think that this will not happen in the future is to admit that you don’t know how to read the writing on the wall,” Beadle said. “Do you want to be the last person standing that says we should allow open and blatant discrimination against people because they are gay, and that’s just icky?”

A total of 21 states and the District of Columbia have anti-discrimination protections in law for individuals based on sexual orientation.

Gov. Jack Dalrymple issued a brief statement following Thursday’s vote saying lawmakers should establish protections for housing and employment.

“I’m concerned that we have missed an opportunity to affirm what North Dakotans already believe, which is that discrimination based on an individual’s sexual orientation is not acceptable,” Dalrymple said.

A way to fight

During debate, Rep. Joshua Boschee, D-Fargo, said the state’s LGBT community should have a way to file complaints with the state when discrimination occurs.

“I know many of you know don’t like this conversation. It’s not something you’re comfortable with ... it’s not your lived experience,” said Boschee, the state's first openly gay lawmaker.

Boschee said the bill sends a signal that North Dakota is open for business and welcoming of LGBT people. He said religious arguments don’t hold water, citing the 1960s civil rights movement.

“You can change the word ‘gay’ to ‘black,’ and it was the exact same argument,” Boschee said.

Bill carrier Rep. Robin Weisz, R-Hurdsfield, said no specific instances of discrimination were cited during several hours of committee discussion.

“Does discrimination exist? Absolutely. Unfortunately until you cure the human condition, you’re not going to eliminate discrimination,” said Weisz, adding that a vote against SB2279 wasn’t a vote in favor of discrimination by lawmakers.

“North Dakota’s always encouraged diversity. This bill isn’t going to change that,” Weisz said.

Rep. Gail Mooney, D-Cummings, said the bill provides a path for the LGBT community to report instances of discrimination in housing and employment to the state department of labor. She took issue with the exemptions for religious groups.

“I don’t know that those liberties supersede liberties and the rights of others,” Mooney said.

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(Reach Nick Smith at 701-250-8255 or 701-223-8482 or at nick.smith@bismarcktribune.com.)

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