The North Dakota House has scheduled a hearing on a bill that would protect gay men and lesbians from discrimination in the areas of employment, housing and public accommodations, reports the Concordian.

Senate Bill 2278 was introduced by Senator Tom Fiebiger, a Democrat from Fargo, on January 19. A March 18 hearing on the bill has been scheduled in the House's Human Services Committee. The bill won approval by the Republican-led Senate in a 27-19 vote.

The bill defines sexual orientation as the “actual or perceived heterosexuality, bisexuality, homosexuality, or gender identity” of a person. The term “gender expression” appeared in the original draft of the bill but looks to have been removed. Religious groups would be exempt from the law's provisions.

“This has been a passion of mine for years,” Fiebiger, the father of a gay son, told the paper. “The people we are talking about are our sons and our daughters, and our brothers and sisters. They're the folks we work with, the folks we worship with on Sundays and sit with in the pews.”

The Focus on the Family-related North Dakota Family Alliance disagrees with the bill, saying on their website that the bill would “provide for special status, not equality” and would be “detrimental” to religious liberties and organizations.

Opponents argue it would allow sexual predators access to children.

“This is a bill that begins to confuse the gender differences between men and women to the point of trying to allow men to use women's restrooms, and, of course, that means sexual predators going after young children,” Tom Minnery, senior vice president of public policy at Focus on the Family Action, said in a radio message.

Republican Representative Judy Lee chairs the Human Services Committee, which includes six members, three from each political party.

Should the proposal pass committee, it seems unclear if it could muster the votes needed for passage in the House, where Republicans hold a nearly 2-to-1 majority.