To: House Human Services Committee
From: Christopher T. Dodson, Executive Director
Subject: House Bill 1386 - Discrimination on the Basis of Sexual Orientation
Date: February 1, 2017

The Catholic Church affirms the dignity of every human life and rejects unjust discrimination. Acts of violence, degradation, or diminishment toward any human person are contrary to the teachings of the Catholic Church. There is no place for arbitrary discrimination and prejudice against a person because of the person’s sexual attraction or self-perceived gender identity.

But this legislation is not about how we feel about discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. It is not about whether a nondiscrimination policy is good for business. It is not about whether we should be like other states. It is about this bill.

This bill gives individuals a right to sue - and some would say harass - based on a set of undefined or poorly defined phrases. This bill would create special protections for a certain class of activities and feelings- not individuals.(1) Civil rights categories should not be used to cover a particular group’s sexual activities or perceptions.

This bill is also replete with infringements upon conscience, religious liberty, and the right to engage in commerce and social service without sacrificing sincerely-held beliefs. Do not be fooled by the bill’s “religious exemptions.”

The problems with the purported exemptions are numerous. Here are just a few: The first exemption applies only to employment matters when hiring employees and volunteers for religious positions. The second purported exemption also applies only to employment matters, but would require the religious organization to restrict its employment to people of the same religion, effectively scaling-back protections that exist in the current law. The third exemption states that a religious organization can limit admission to places of worship and parochial schools to people of the same religion. It should not take too much imagination to envision all the situations left out of these exemptions. Most notably, the exemptions are only defenses to claims of discrimination based on religion, not sexual orientation.

House Bill 1386 would also radically depart from state policy, especially when it comes to our youth and those in need of medical care. Gender identity disorder and gender dysphoria are controversial topics. Debate continues as to how they should be addressed. Certainly, for many of those who experience these conditions, they constitute a challenge that should not be dismissed from our concern and care. By applying self-perceived gender identity to the Act’s provisions on public accommodations and government services, however, the bill replaces concern and care with politics and litigation.

House Bill 1386 strips local school districts of their ability to address issues concerning gender identity. Rather than allowing a school to approach issues of gender identity disorder and gender dysphoria in a manner that best addresses the needs of that student in consideration parental wishes and school practices, HB 1386 imposes a top-down, one-size-fits-all approach that reflects a contested and controversial gender ideology. House Bill 1368 does the same for all state and local agencies, including the state high school activities association, and places of accommodation, including private youth organizations.

Similarly, as has been done in other jurisdictions, language like that in House Bill 1386, could be used to impose a particular gender ideology on the state’s health care providers, even if that ideology is not in the best interests of the patient or would require providers and employees — including chaplains — to engage in what they consider at best counter-therapeutic for the patient and, at worse, complicity in a falsehood.

Our state Attorney General has sued the federal government to protect the rights of local school districts and state health care providers. Why would this body undermine the General and disregard the concerns of our schools and health care providers by passing this sweeping bill?

We realize this is an emotionally-charged issue. However, respect and cooperation, among people with legitimate differences of opinion is what makes North Dakota great. There is no place for hate, name-calling, or stereotyping by people on either side of this issue or this particular bill. Keeping those principles in mind we urge this committee to carefully review what this bill actually does and give it a Do Not Pass recommendation.

1. Here lies the fundamental error of any “sexual orientation” legislation. Unlike something like race or sex that does require overt behavior, the sexual orientation of an individual is not known unless the individual publicly expresses his or her sexual orientation with overt speech or actions.