By John Celock
North Dakota lawmakers are considering legislation that would ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in the state.
The bill, which is being heard in the state Senate Judiciary Committee Monday, is another attempt to include the state’s LGBT population in the state’s discrimination code. In 2013, the Republican-controlled North Dakota Senate defeated similar legislation.
“People can find themselves discriminated on this and they have no recourse,” state Rep. Joshua Boschee (D-Fargo), the bill’s sponsor, told The Celock Report. “If people are being discriminated against they have recourse to back them up.”
Boschee, North Dakota’s first openly gay lawmaker, admitted that the bill will face an uphill fight again this year. He said his current count on the Senate Judiciary Committee shows that the committee will likely recommend that the full Senate reject the bill. Under North Dakota rules though, the bill will receive a full Senate vote.
The debate comes as a poll released Monday by the North Dakota Human Rights Coalition shows that 59 percent of North Dakota residents support the bill.
Boschee said that he has been hearing stories from those within the state’s LGBT community of discrimination at work when employers find out that a person is gay. He said that while he cannot quantify the numbers, the problem does exist in the state.
Under Boschee’s bill, the state’s housing code would also be updated to prohibit discrimination for renters.
Several cities in North Dakota have already passed local laws prohibiting LGBT discrimination in their communities. Boschee said that it is a start but the issue exists for people who may work in those communities but live in another community without the protections. But he said that the local laws can help show state government that the protections are needed.
“The helpfulness is those cities will help with that bill,” Boschee said.
Boschee said that he sees the proposal as an economic development measure. He said that businesses looking to come to North Dakota will be looking at a variety of factors, including discrimination laws. Boschee said the North Dakota Chamber of Commerce has backed the proposal.
“When new businesses are looking for a place to go, having this kind of limitation doesn’t make North Dakota look very attractive,” he said.
Boschee’s economic development comments are similar to comments made by other state officials in past years. In her 2013 inaugural address, New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan (D) noted that her state’s same sex marriage law was a business recruitment tool. In the speech, Hassan recounted a conversation she had had with a business recruiter who said that the law showed that New Hampshire was a “welcoming state.”
Boshcee said that with the U.S. Supreme Court considering a marriage equality case that could legalize same sex marriage nationally, North Dakota needs to pass the discrimination ban. He said that if the ban is not passed and same sex marriage is legalized in the state via the Supreme Court, it could lead to a new set of issues for the state’s LGBT population.
“We’re seeing that in reality in a lot of states. There are 27 that have sexual orientation as a protected class but 36 have gay marriage now. They can get married but are not protected in their housing and employment. We’d be in the same boat and that would create hardships for folks,” Boschee said. “Especially for those who might have lived quietly and people did not know about their private lives. Once you go to HR to put your partner on your benefits or your kids on, you end up outing yourself.”