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Benny Polacca, Published January 15 2009

ND bill would give sexual orientation protected status

A bill that adds sexual orientation as a protected class to North Dakota’s Human Rights and Fair Housing acts will be filed next week, according to the state’s Human Rights Coalition.

If the bill passes, discrimination based on sexual orientation will be prohibited in housing, employment, credit transactions and use of public accommodations.

Mitch Marr, the Human Rights Coalition’s executive director, said offices such as Fair Housing of the Dakotas and the state’s Department of Labor get complaints and inquiries regarding sexual orientation discrimination, but “are just powerless to investigate those because it’s not currently a protected class.”

“I think it’s essential to North Dakota because it shows that they value all of their citizens and their work force,” Marr said Wednesday of the bill. “On top of that, it’s going to help attract employees and retain students when they graduate.”

The Human Rights Coalition said in an e-mail statement Wednesday that the bill will be introduced Monday, with public announcements slated that day in five North Dakota cities, including Fargo. A news conference is slated at 10 a.m. Monday at Babb’s Coffee House, 604 Main Ave.

One of the bill’s main sponsors is state Sen. Tom Fiebiger, D-Fargo. He could not be reached for comment Wednesday, but mentioned the bill’s planned introduction in a column printed in The Forum on Aug. 6.

Areas currently protected under the state’s Human Rights and Fair Housing acts include: a person’s race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability, or status with respect to marriage or public assistance.

“If you look next door to Minnesota, they have these protections in place, and Montana is looking at the exact same legislation (this session),” Marr said. “If Montana passes it and North Dakota does not, we’re going to be sitting between two states that are much more inclusive.”

Minnesota amended its Human Rights Act to include sexual orientation as a protected class in 1993.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Benny Polacca at (701) 241-5504