North Dakota lawmakers should not be bullied into bad decisions by religious and quasi-religious lobbies, like the North Dakota Family Alliance and the North Dakota Catholic Conference. The determination of those groups to misuse the legislative process to advance an ecclesiastical agenda is anathema to most North Dakotans, as made clear at the ballot box, twice in the past few years.

The latest intrusion of narrow religious doctrine is an attempt to kill legislation that would add sexual orientation to discrimination categories such as race, color, religion, sex and national origin. Opponents of the bill contend it would create a “protected class.” That’s dishonest claptrap. The bill merely, and rightly, would include North Dakotans who have been excluded, and thus subject to discrimination in housing and employment. It’s not about a protected class but rather about extending protections that other North Dakotans take for granted.

Opponents of inclusion are sincere in their beliefs but wrong about making law. They can honor their faith, but when they use a religious wedge to deny secular rights to others, the Legislature should say “no.” Lawmakers who don’t understand or won’t accept that bedrock principle did not get the voters’ clear messages.

The first was the 2012 so-called religious freedom measure, which was pummeled to defeat. The second was just last year when the misguided “personhood” amendment was turned back by a landslide. Fallout from the second defeat included booting out of office the two legislators who championed the amendment.

In both defeated ballot questions, the groups now trying to deny rights to North Dakotans were active and vocal supporters. Despite well-funded campaigns that featured expensive media and even lobbying from church pulpits, the common sense of North Dakotans prevailed. They understood that the legislative and initiative processes were being perverted in order to restrict the rights of individuals and families to make personal and private life decisions.

In the same dark spirit, opponents of ending sex orientation discrimination in housing and employment are again grimly attempting to prevent North Dakotans from participating fully in the rights and privileges of citizenship. This time it’s refusing to open the rights door, rather than using government to snatch away individual and family rights.

The bill passed the Senate. The House should pass it, too.

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

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