RALEIGH — The N.C. House passed legislation Monday night that would add North Carolina to a handful of states with anti-bullying laws that include specific protections for students tormented because of their real or perceived sexual orientation.
Lawmakers approved the bill in a 59 to 57 preliminary vote after 90 minutes of contentious debate packed with testimonials of discrimination, warnings about child suicide and countering claims of placing a political agenda ahead of children's safety.
The House will hold a final vote today on Senate bill 526, before it goes to Gov. Beverly Perdue for her consideration.
"The people of North Carolina are being bullied on this floor tonight," said Rep. Dale Folwell, a Winston-Salem Republican and former school board member, accusing Democrats of ramming through a bill for special categories of people instead of legislation that protects all students.
Democrats charged that Republicans were driven by anxiety over gays and lesbians. "To oppose this bill because you object to one of those categories is to fight the culture wars on the back of a child," said Rep. Grier Martin, a Raleigh Democrat.
Seven Democrats voted against the bill, while one Republican, James L. Boles of Moore County, voted for it.
North Carolina is among the last states to pass an anti-bullying law. Thirty-nine other states have similar laws in place, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Lawmakers in Raleigh, though, took the legislation a step further than most states by recognizing students' sexual orientation and gender identity as potential targets for harassment.
Only seven other states have specifically included gay students for protection under anti-bullying laws, according to the Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network, an advocacy group for such laws: California, Iowa, Maryland, New Jersey, Oregon, Vermont and Washington state.
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