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Published October 08, 2013, 08:51 AM

Rental discrimination ban approved in Grand Forks

GRAND FORKS, N.D. (AP) — The Grand Forks City Council has banned housing discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, though not all city leaders think it's a good idea.

GRAND FORKS, N.D. (AP) — The Grand Forks City Council has banned housing discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, though not all city leaders think it's a good idea.

Grand Forks is the first city in North Dakota to approve such a law, according to the council, which passed it on a 5-2 vote Monday after nearly two hours of testimony and discussion, the Grand Forks Herald reported.

Supporters say the ordinance provides protection for people of every sexual orientation. Councilman Terry Bjerke said he thinks that goes too far.

"How can you have equal protection and protected class in the same sentence?" he said. "There are not enough trees to cut down and paper to print the number of protected classes that could be in the ordinance."

The federal Fair Housing Act makes it illegal to discriminate in rental, sales and lending on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, disability and familial status — but it does not include sexual orientation or gender identity as protected classes, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Twenty states and the District of Columbia and more than 150 cities, towns and counties across the nation have laws that specifically prohibit discrimination against the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, according to HUD.

Grand Forks this past summer became the first city in North Dakota to protect city employees and city job applicants from discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation. That measure shared the intent of an antidiscrimination bill that failed in the state Legislature earlier this year.

Opponents of the city housing measure see it as a violation of property rights and religious beliefs.

"You do not have the right to impose that lifestyle on my religious beliefs," resident Jerry Hjeldsen said.

The ordinance has some exemptions, including churches and religious housing. Violators of the ordinance are subject to a $500 fine in municipal court.

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