The Republican-controlled North Dakota state Senate rejected legislation Thursday that would have made it illegal to discriminate based on sexual orientation.
The vote came shortly after senators shot down amendments that would have weakened the proposal and the current law against age discrimination.
North Dakota currently does not include sexual orientation among forms of discrimination outlawed in the state. The legislation was pushed by state Reps. Josh Boschee (D-Fargo) and Kylie Oversen (D-Grand Forks). Boschee is the first openly gay legislator in North Dakota history.
“It is an extreme disappointment," Oversen told The Huffington Post. "It is sending a message to young people and old alike who are a part of this community and have family members that are part of this community, that our state doesn’t care if you are being discriminated against.”
The Senate Judiciary Committee earlier this week voted to water down the bill to say the state doesn't condone discrimination based on sexual orientation, but it wouldn't be illegal. The amendment, by Judiciary Committee Chairman David Hogue (R-Minot) also would have raised the age discrimination threshold to age 55 from 40 and change back pay rules on employment discrimination to one year from two years.
Hogue did not return a message left for comment by The Huffington Post. He told the Bismarck Tribune earlier this week that he pushed the amendment as a "compromise" to pass the bill. He said change does not happen fast.
“We had one good step and then five steps backwards," Oversen said about Thursday's votes.
Oversen said opponents claimed that the discrimination bill would have opened a door to gay marriage in North Dakota. Some raised concern about pedophilia and religion, he said. Oversen said the bill included exemptions for religious organizations, but opponents objected that it would have forced Catholic business owners to serve the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender population.
“The arguments against are outdated, they are homophobic and inappropriate," Oversen said.
The North Dakota vote comes as nearby states also have tackled LGBT issues. In Montana, lawmakers have been debating legislation to remove the state's law against gay sex. The ban has been deemed unconstitutional by the state and U.S. supreme courts. Earlier this month, the Wyoming House of Representatives rejected legislation to allow domestic partnerships. The Wyoming vote followed a committee hearing that included debate over whether sexuality was a choice.
Boschee told HuffPost he is talking to local leaders about potential local discrimination bans and plans to discuss a ban for state employees with Gov. Jack Dalrymple (R). He called Thursday's vote "going backwards."
Oversen and Boschee said they plan to reintroduce the legislation in 2015. Oversen said the Senate vote defines North Dakota.
“It speaks volumes about how far behind we are socially right now," Oversen said. "Not only on this issue, but abortion and voter ID. Every single controversial social issue is coming up this year and they are passing with flying colors. We are saying that citizens of our state can be discriminated against for who they are and who they love.”