Following 90 minutes of heated debate, the North Carolina House passed legislation yesterday to include specific protections for students who are bullied because of their sexuality in an anti-bullying law.

The anti-bullying laws will state that a child should not be discriminated against or harassed on the grounds of their real or perceived sexual orientation. The bill also makes reference to bullying on several other grounds, including race, religious views and disabilities.

The bill to discuss the inclusion of a category referring to sexuality was carried by 59 to 57 votes in a preliminary vote, with three Democrats voting against the motion and one Republican voting in favour of it.

The debate included testimonials, descriptions of discrimination and warnings about the dangers of bullying, including suicide.

Opposition to the bill claimed that the largely Democratic group who proposed the motion were wrong to focus on the protection of a minority instead of legislating to protect all children in the state. Dale Folwell, a Winston-Salem Republican representative, was quoted in the News and Observer as saying: “The people of North Carolina are being bullied on this floor tonight.”

However, Grier Martin, a Raleigh Democrat representative argued back: “To oppose this bill because you object to one of those categories is to fight the culture wars on the back of a child.”

According to the Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network, only seven other US states with bullying laws in place include specific protection for gay students: California, Iowa, Maryland, New Jersey, Oregon, Vermont and Washington state.

The bill requires all districts to establish an anti-bullying policy and for any instances of bullying to be reported and acted upon.