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North Dakota lawmakers again mull sexual discrimination bill

February 2, 2017
Christopher Dodson, executive director of the North Dakota Catholic Conference, testified against HB 1386, a bill dealing with discrimination based on a persons sexual orientation, at a hearing in front of the House Human Services Committee in the state capitol Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2017, in Bismarck, N.D. (Tom Stromme/The Bismarck Tribune via AP)

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — A woman who described herself a “proud mom of a young gay man” told North Dakota lawmakers Wednesday that failure to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation discourages people from living in the state, including her own son.

“The world is changing and North Dakota must change also,” a tearful Kim Riedlinger Wassim told the House Human Services Committee. “Please stand on the right side of history.”

North Dakota’s Republican-led Legislature has defeated legislation three times in past years that would ban discrimination based on sexual orientation in housing, government, public services and the workplace. But backers are buoyed because Republican former Gov. Jack Dalrymple chided lawmakers when they killed the bill two years ago, telling them in a statement that they had missed an opportunity to protect gays and lesbians from discrimination. Also, Republican Gov. Doug Burgum has long been critical of the GOP-led Legislature’s stance on social issues, including being outspoken on its failure to pass the anti-discrimination bill.

Fargo Democratic Rep. Josh Boschee, the state’s first openly gay legislator, says he’s committed to pushing the measure until it passes.

North Dakota law now forbids discrimination by race, color, sex, religion, age, national origin and disability. It also bans discrimination based on whether a person is on public assistance, married, or unmarried. The bipartisan legislation would add sexual orientation to the list of classes of people specifically protected against discrimination under state law.

Opponents have argued that it’s unnecessary and could force businesses and religious organizations to go against their own convictions.

Linda Thorson, of Edinburg, said the legislation “is a giant step toward the adoption of policies that discriminate against people with traditional views.”

Christopher Dodson, executive director of the North Dakota Catholic Conference, said discrimination is unacceptable in any form. But he said the proposed legislation would “create special protections for a certain class of activities and feelings — not individuals.”

Paul Schick, a Lutheran pastor from Bismarck, was one of several clergy members who spoke in support of the bill. He said failing to pass it sends a message that the Legislature “really doesn’t bear goodwill toward the LGBT community.”

“It does no harm to be extra diligent in prohibiting discrimination against LGBT persons,” Schick said.

Similar legislation failed during the 2009, 2013 and 2015 sessions.

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