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North Dakota unlikely to expand anti-discrimination protection to include LGBT citizens

North Dakota unlikely to expand anti-discrimination protection to include LGBT citizens
North Dakota state capitol in Bismark
North Dakota state capitol in Bismark

BISMARCK, N.D. — David Hamilton and his husband, Bernie Erickson, say they’re “thrilled” the U.S. Supreme Court has allowed same-sex marriage nationally, but the Fargo couple believes anti-discrimination protections for LGBT people are still lacking in North Dakota.

“You can get married on Saturday, have the wedding announcement printed in the paper on Sunday and Monday morning get fired or have an eviction notice on you door,” Hamilton said.

North Dakota lawmakers have defeated legislation three times in the past six years to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation in housing, government, public services and the workplace.

Fargo Democratic Rep. Josh Boschee, the state’s first openly gay legislator, said many LGBT people fear they could lose their jobs or residences under current state law. But opponents said there is no evidence of that happening in North Dakota, and extending anti-discrimination protections are unnecessary because they already exist.

North Dakota law now forbids discrimination by race, color, sex, religion, age, national origin and disability. It also bans discrimination based on whether a person is on public assistance, married, or unmarried.

“We feel everybody has equal rights,” said Sen. Rich Wardner, R-Dickinson, the Senate majority leader. “You can’t discriminate when you hire and rent a place to live in North Dakota. The law already provides safeguards for all people.”

Wardner and House Majority Leader Al Carlson, R-Fargo, said they don’t see the Legislature passing a measure extending special anti-discrimination protections to gays and lesbians, even with the high court’s ruling. Both chambers have two-thirds Republican majorities.

Carlson said the Supreme Court decision will “give them another reason to argue for it but I don’t think most minds will be changed.”

After the Legislature killed the measure this year, GOP Gov. Jack Dalrymple issued a statement chiding lawmakers for missing an opportunity.

“Discrimination based on an individual’s sexual orientation is not acceptable,” the governor said, causing some intraparty friction within the Legislature.

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Erickson, who married Hamilton in Canada in 2006, said he was “a little optimistic” about anti-discrimination protections following Dalrymple’s statement, but doesn’t expect the North Dakota Legislature to endorse such a measure anytime soon.

“There is still going to be a fight,” Erickson said.

Boschee, the Democratic lawmaker from Fargo, said the measure will reappear in future legislative sessions until it passes.

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