Republican legislator says law would have protected ‘lifestyle choice’
BISMARCK, N.D. — Banning discrimination against gays and lesbians would amount to giving protection in North Dakota law to a "lifestyle choice," an opponent said as the state House decisively defeated the proposal.
"I don’t think [the bill] is needed. I do think it has consequences that aren’t in the best interests of this state, that do intrude on the rights of others," said Rep. Robin Weisz, R-Hurdsfield.
The North Dakota House voted 54-34 on Friday, April 3 to reject the measure, which sought to ban discrimination in housing, employment and credit on the basis of a person’s sexual orientation.
State law already extends the same protection to a number of categories, including race, sex, color, national origin and religious beliefs.
The proposal’s supporters said it would allow North Dakota to join a number of states and large companies in extending anti-discrimination protection to gays and lesbians. Rep. Kathy Hawken, R-Fargo, said a Fargo city ordinance already forbids such discrimination.
During Fargo’s recent battle to hold back the waters of the flooding Red River, "I am relatively sure that no one was checking sexual orientation of the volunteer sandbaggers," Hawken said. "It simply didn’t make a difference. People were just people working to save their city."
Said Rep. Jasper Schneider, D-Fargo, said a "No" vote was a declaration that, "it’s OK to discriminate against somebody based on sexual orientation."
"This is North Dakota," Schneider said. "We should hire and fire people on their merits, on who they are, not what they are."
Rep. Phillip Mueller, D-Valley City, said the "question really comes down to a fairly simple one. Do we discriminate in employment or housing, or do we not? … I’m going to choose not to."
Rep. Wes Belter, R-Leonard, said North Dakota’s existing anti-discrimination law is adequate.
"Although I certainly do not approve of the gay movement, because I do think it really violates what God meant for man … I also understand that we need to love and be understanding of these people, and that we should not discriminate against them, because that is sin," Belter said.
Weisz said sexual orientation was "a behavior, a lifestyle choice" that did not merit anti-discrimination protection in state law.
The legislation may force North Dakotans who oppose homosexuality to accept it, he said. An employer, for example, who disapproves of homosexuality would not be allowed to talk about his opinions in the workplace because it might create a hostile environment for gay and lesbian employees, he said.
"If this bill passes, I can still preach about [opposition to] divorce and living together, but I would no longer be able to have an opinion in my own place of business on whether homosexuality was a proper or improper lifestyle," Weisz said. "Their rights have now superseded my rights."