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Forum editorial: North Dakota rights bill right thing to do

The argument that a sexual orientation discrimination bill would grant a class of North Dakotans special rights is specious. The legislation, which is making its way through the legislative process, would, in fact, extend rights that all other North Dakotans have taken for granted for generations.

The bipartisan bill’s primary sponsor is Sen. Carolyn Nelson, D-Fargo. It is similar to legislation that was defeated in the 2009 and 2013 sessions of the Legislature. The 2015 bill should be passed and signed by the governor. It’s time for North Dakota to join some 40 other states that have stopped discriminating in jobs and housing based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

The “special rights” canard collapses under honest scrutiny. If that argument were valid, then existing North Dakota anti-discrimination laws based on race, sex, religion, national origin, age and disabilities would be seen in the same light. Do the forces aligned against civil rights for gay North Dakotans believe existing protections in law create special classes of individuals because the laws are based on race, sex, religion, national origin, age and disabilities? If so, they should be working tirelessly to remove those specific definitions from law. Don’t bet the farm that will happen.

The other argument advanced by opponents of the rights bill is that an anti-discrimination mandate would hurt business. That’s nonsense. In fact, the private sector is way ahead of North Dakota’s lawmakers. Many large and small business already have in place anti-discrimination policies and practices in regard to sexual orientation. Fargo and Grand Forks have laws in place. The State Board of Higher Education adopted a policy in 2009. North Dakota State University and other schools have similar polices. Smart mangers and entrepreneurs understand that standing against discrimination is good for business.

Removing barriers to full citizenship is always a good idea. Nothing in the laws in other states, or in policies adopted by private-sector businesses, threatens religious beliefs or practices. The North Dakota bill includes safeguards. However, preventing discrimination is a civil matter that should not be determined by religious doctrines that, in effect, require discrimination.

It’s the 21st century. North Dakota lawmakers should recognize that fact and pass legislation that invites all of the state’s citizens to participate fully in all the rights and privileges of citizenship.

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