Representatives in the North Dakota House have voted to leave gays and lesbians exposed to discrimination. Lawmakers voted 54 to 34 to reject a measure that sought to ban discrimination in the areas of housing, employment and public accommodations on the basis of sexual orientation.

Senate Bill 2278 was introduced by Senator Tom Fiebiger, a Democrat from Fargo, on January 19 and won approval by the Republican-led Senate by a 27-19 vote.

Fiebiger, the father of a gay son, told The Concordian that passage of a gay protections law had become his “passion” in recent years.

The bill defined 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 in the final reading. Religious groups would have been exempt from the law's provisions.

Opponents said the law would have meant a state endorsement of a “lifestyle choice.”

“[Being gay or lesbian] is not something that you're born with, that you have no choice in,” said Rep. Robin Weisz, a Republican from Hurdsfield, told the AP. “It is a behavior, and it is a lifestyle choice.”

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

Other opponents took aim at the bill's inclusion of transgender people, arguing such protections 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.

Republicans hold a nearly 2-to-1 majority in the House.