To: Senate Judiciary Committee
From: Christopher T. Dodson, Executive Director
Subject: Senate Bill 2278 - Sexual Orientation
Date: February 3, 2009

[Note: The portions in regular print comprise the prepared written testimony provided to the committee. The parts in italics memorialize additional oral comments made during the hearing.]

The Catholic Church affirms the God-given dignity of every human life and rejects unjust discrimination. Acts of violence, degradation, or diminishment toward any human person, including anyone with a homosexual inclination, are contrary to the teachings of the Catholic Church.

There is no place for arbitrary discrimination and prejudice against a person because of sexual attraction. We especially deplore violence and harassment directed against such persons. Moreover, all human persons, including those with homosexual inclinations, have a right to obtain employment and housing.

We recognize that some people have a same sex attraction. This tendency is not in itself immoral or sinful. However, like all sexual activity outside of marriage, homosexual activity, as distinguished from homosexual tendency, is morally wrong. A corollary of this teaching of the Church is that patterns of life, sometimes referred to as “lifestyles,” that encourage or normalize immoral behavior are also morally objectionable. This is particularly true of those patterns that encourage, promote, or advocate sexual activity outside of marriage.

Based on these principles, we cannot support SB 2278. The unique legal status granted by the bill’s definition of sexual orientation appears to encompass not only homosexual inclinations, but also other sexual activities, homosexual or heterosexual, outside of marriage. Civil rights categories should not be used to cover a particular group’s activities, especially when those activities are morally objectionable.

It should be noted that current law already protects lawful activities outside the place of employment. This bill, however, would create special protection for a certain class of activities.

This raises serious policy questions when we consider that current law does not provide protection to other activities and thoughts. Some people might experience discrimination because of familial status. Some people might experience discrimination because of where they live. Some people might experience discrimination because of their appearance or weight. Some people might experience discrimination because of their non-religious beliefs. Some people might experience discrimination because of their health. (The statute’s definition of mental and physical disability is limited to substantial impairments.) Some people might experience discrimination because of their residency status. None of these activities or conditions, however, are covered under our Human Rights Act.

We also feel that it is our duty to point out that SB 2278 provides no protection to employers, including religious entities, for those instances where a prohibition against sexual activity outside of marriage is a legitimate qualification for a particular job. Moreover, SB 2278 provides no protection for churches, private schools, and youth organizations, such as scouting organizations, from being forced to violate their sincerely-held beliefs.

Although we have not reviewed Senator Fiebiger’s proposed amendments, from what he described, they appear to exempt only religious entities and would not provide protection to other types of employers. The committee should recognize that the current law exempts those situations where religion, sex, national origin, physical or mental disability, or marital status is a bona fide occupational qualification. This bill does not add sexual orientation to that list, thus providing no protection to employers for those circumstances where a prohibition on sexual activity outside of marriage is a legitimate job requirement.

Senate Bill 2278, therefore, is flawed in its scope and its reach. It would establish the dangerous precedent of creating legal protection for chosen sexual activities while providing no legal protection for employers, churches, private schools, and youth organizations.

Finally, Mr. Chairman, I want to express my thanks to Senator Fiebiger. Although we ultimately disagree on the merits of this bill, he did reach out to me early on in the process to see if we could find common ground. This spirit of 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. These principles should guide us as this body considers this bill.