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Published January 23 2013

Forum editorial: Sex bias bill right thing to do

A bill in the North Dakota Legislature that would ban discrimination based on sexual orientation should become law. Similar to a bill that was defeated in 2009, the bill would amend the state’s Fair Housing Act and the North Dakota Human Rights Act, making it illegal to discriminate against someone in housing and employment based on sexual orientation. It might come as a surprise to many North Dakotans that bias of that sort is not against the law in the state.

The bill has bipartisan support. Two Republicans are among the bill’s sponsors: Rep. Rick Becker of Bismarck and Rep. Nancy Johnson of Dickinson. Republicans hold huge majorities in both houses, so nothing of significance can pass without support from Republican legislators.

The anti-discrimination bill is, in effect, a civil rights bill. It extends basic rights to a group of North Dakota residents who can be denied access to housing and jobs because of sexual orientation. The legislation is in keeping with the nation’s steady expansion and extension of constitutional rights to all citizens, that began with the Emancipation Proclamation during the Civil War and has continued ever since. Regarding employment and housing bias based on sexual orientation, North Dakota has been out of step for some time.

The private sector, which is often motivated by enlightened self-interest, does not discriminate because of sexual orientation. We suspect there are no sex tests in North Dakota’s Oil Patch for workers. Major developers of apartments or single homes are not refusing to rent or sell to people who are gay. Nor do companies like Microsoft, Sanford Health, Blue Cross Blue Shield or Forum Communications, or public institutions like the University System, the Department of Transportation or the Department of Health refuse to sign on an employee because of sexual orientation.

But under North Dakota law as it stands now, businesses, state agencies and landlords can discriminate because there is no explicit prohibition in state law against discrimination based on sexual orientation. The bill merely brings state law up to a general national standard, and that standard has been defined and redefined by a steady march through U.S. history of extending to more Americans the constitutional promise of inalienable rights. North Dakota has an opportunity to more fully fulfill that promise.

Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper’s Editorial Board.