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Tom Fiebiger, Fargo, Published February 19 2013

Letter: ‘Success’ defined by rights

How we measure a state’s “success” goes well beyond the amount of oil you have in the ground, your budget surplus or your unemployment rate. True success is also measured by the quality of life that all your residents enjoy, and whether they all enjoy equal rights ... not special rights. The North Dakota Senate missed a real opportunity to improve the quality of life for all residents and help us become truly successful when they defeated SB 2252. The bill would have amended the North Dakota Human Rights Act to add discrimination against residents of this state based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Sen. David Hogue, R-Minot, brought amendments from the Judiciary Committee to the full Senate that sought to “hoghouse” the original bill – effectively changing the bill entirely from its original intent. He suggested he did this because it seemed like a “reasonable compromise” and because he did not think the bill had a chance of passing. Yet this was virtually the same bill I introduced in 2009, and that passed the Senate with bipartisan support.

The proposed amendments provided that our state does not “condone” discrimination against residents based on sexual orientation. Then, in the next breath, they specifically stated that there are no legal protections available for folks based on sexual orientation. As Sen. Mac Schneider, D-Grand Forks, pointed out on the Senate floor in opposing these bad amendments, passing the amendments would be saying to thousands of our residents that we get that discrimination happens, understand that it’s wrong, but if it happens to you – you’re on your own. The amendments which, thankfully, did not pass, also would have increased the age at which an individual can seek legal action for age discrimination from 40 to 55. This 40-year age has been the law in North Dakota since the original Human Rights Act was passed almost 30 years ago. Finally, the amendments, which had absolutely no public comment or hearing, would have reduced the amount of backpay that a person who had proved discrimination could receive from a maximum of two years, to one year.

Hogue, chairman of the committee, while addressing the full Senate, appeared to be frustrated that the LGBT folks in our state were, well, impatient. What a surprise. His comment that this change happens slowly and he did not think they (proponents) appreciated that, helps illustrate the systemic nature of the problem. The senators who voted against

SB 2252 may claim they believe all people are entitled to equal rights in our state – but their vote against SB 2252 says, in no uncertain terms, that some people are more equal than our LGBT brothers and sisters. That’s the essence of discrimination. It is disingenuous at best to suggest that those who support this important legislation, including the LGBT residents who actually help pay their salary, don’t appreciate that change comes slowly. What we don’t appreciate are lawmakers who continue to act as if it is acceptable to let this type of discrimination continue in our state. It is not.

I urge residents to contact senators who voted for this legislation and thank them. I also urge residents to contact senators who voted against the bill and ask them why they think it’s all right to fire someone or evict someone from their home because of who they love. It is not. We must all demand equal rights for all our residents. This important civil rights issue is not going away.

Fargo attorney Fiebiger is a former state senator.