North Dakota Will Again Debate Bill Prohibiting Discrimination Based on Sexual Orientation


TOM STROMME.TribuneRep. Joshua Boschee (D-Fargo) said in remarks urging support for SB 2279 it would signal that North Dakota is a welcome place and accepting of the LGBT community.

For the fourth consecutive biennial session the North Dakota Legislature will debate a bill banning discrimination based on sexual orientation.

As near as I can tell, this legislation is essentially a duplicate of SB2279 which caused a ruckus when it was voted down last legislative session.

The bipartisan bill – HB1386 introduced by openly gay state Rep. Josh Boschee – isn’t just about sexual orientation. It’s also about “actual or perceived” gender identity.

The legislation would define “gender identity” thusly:

It then lumps “gender identity” into the definition of “sexual orientation.”

The rest of the bill essentially adds “sexual orientation” to all the places in state law which list the protected classes which cannot be discriminated against. But there are some exemptions:

And the legislation isn’t just about employment discrimination. It specifically prohibits discrimination from any business which provides accommodations or other services to the public:

I think most Americans find the idea of an employer firing someone (or refusing to hire them) merely because they’re gay or trans-gendered to be mean spirited, at best. What becomes much more controversial, I think, is the idea that business should be compelled to provide unwilling service.

The now-infamous situations involving cake bakers or photographers being punished under the law because they don’t want to serve a same sex marriage is perhaps the most obvious example of this. This legislation would create that sort of law here in North Dakota.

I wonder if Democrats would be willing to compromise, removing the above section of law in exchange for passing the rest.

With history as our guide, the answer to that is no. I think North Dakota’s Democrats care much more about the headlines this issue generates for them than they do advancing policy.

There was certainly plenty of political acrimony over this issue in 2015.

SAB readers will remember that a Fargo coffee shop banned state lawmakers who voted against the legislation, that lawmakers received harassing phone calls, and one Republican lawmaker who voted against the legislation even had his sexuality outed.

Will this legislation pass in 2017 when it didn’t in 2015, 2013, or 2011?

It’s hard to say. There are a lot of new lawmakers in Bismarck, many of whom are quite young. We also have a governor now in Doug Burgum who was supportive of previous iterations of this legislation, though the issue became more muddled for him during his campaign last year.

I suspect Burgum would sign this bill if it passed. How much he’d be willing to do publicly to help it pass is another matter.

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