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Grand Forks advances discrimination safeguards

All eyes are on Grand Forks as it mulls becoming the first city in North Dakota to ban employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

City Council member Bret Weber, who is in favor of the ban, said cities such as Fargo, Grafton and Mandan are waiting to see the outcome of the proposed amendment to city law defining classes protected from discrimination.

If Grand Forks passes the amendment it will likely be the start of a statewide trend, according to Weber.

"We're going to be the first of many cities that will pass laws like this," he said Monday. "Once enough of them have these laws, the Legislature has to pass a state law."

The amendment shares the intent of a N.D. Senate antidiscrimination bill that failed in February.

City Attorney Howard Swanson told the council's finance committee Monday the amendment was created after his office studied similar laws enacted in other states.

The amendment was given preliminary approval by the committee and will be presented to the full council June 17 for final approval.

The amendment was met with mixed reviews when its creation was first suggested in February.

At that time, the council voted 6-1 to pass a resolution in favor of the Senate bill. A request for a similar amendment to city law was brought forward by residents shortly after the bill failed by a vote of 21-26.

While some pushed for amendment's creation, others felt it should be left off the books.

Several residents turned out to a Feb. 20 council meeting with concerns that including sexual orientation and gender identity in the bill would infringe on religious and property rights.

Those with religious convictions against homosexuality should be able to refuse to do business with or rent housing to gay people, they argued.

Council member Terry Bjerke, the lone dissenter on the resolution vote, agreed saying he could not vote in favor of a law that could take away rights from residents.

Other council members said they were taken aback by the discussion.

Council member Dana Sande reiterated this disbelief at Monday's committee meeting.

"It speaks to the interesting state of our society when we actually have to write this stuff down," Sande said.