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MT: Billings Narrowly Rejects LGBT Non-Discrimination Ordinance

BG TweetIn a 6 to 5 vote early Tuesday morning, the Billings city council voted down a non-discrimination ordinance, or NDO, which would have made LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender) people a protected class under the law.

The NDO would have made it illegal to discriminate against a person due to their sexual orientation or gender identity. Mayor Tom Hanel cast the deciding vote just after 3 a.m. according to the Billings Gazette.

Before casting his vote, the Mayor spoke to the crowd of supporters and opponents:

If we can’t agree to disagree then we all need to be ashamed of ourselves. When this council gets up and walks out of here – with all the time and effort, and all the sweat and long hours and snacks eaten, and trying to keep your eyes open – when this is done, if they can’t get up and walk out of here as professionals. If they can’t come back to the next meeting, pick up right where we left off with the business that is waiting for us, then shame on them. Because that’s the way it’s supposed to be.

This has no disrespect for anyone. Anyone – whether you’re for or against. I think no different of you today then I did yesterday, nor will I tomorrow. But ladies and gentlemen, I do not think that Billings is ready at this time. I’m concerned. There is language in this ordinance that concerns me. And I’m just not comfortable with it. I’m going to have to speak against the motion. And therefore it fails. Thank you.

Billings’ rejection of the NDO is in stark contrast to other Montana cities, including Helena, Bozeman and Butte, which have all adopted such measures.

Supporters were stunned by the loss.

One lesbian, Shauna Goubeaux, who is suing the state over its traditional marriage laws, spoke out to the Billings Gazette.

“My wife and I own our own home, and we’re employed by companies that are open and embracing” of their marriage, which occurred in another state, she said. “Our lives aren’t as impacted, but the lives of our friends are impacted by this vote.

MTFF TweetIt was a full house for the city council meeting, which began Monday night. Supporters of the NDO wore orange t-shirts while opponents wore white. Both sides waiting with bated breath while the council discussed other matters, from library demolition to handicapped parking.

Debate over the NDO kicked off at 9 p.m. Both sides had numerous representatives come up to speak for three-minutes each. The testimony continued well into the next day, when the council began discussing the matter “shortly after 2 a.m. on Tuesday,” according to KBZK.

Council member Rich McFadden, one of the five council members to join the Mayor in opposition to the NDO, did so because of his belief in limited government.

Not every problem, real or imagined, is for the government to fix,” he said.

In support of the NDO, council member Brent Cromley said the main issue is fairness.

“There is a gay agenda,” Cromley told his colleagues. “They want to be treated as real human beings.”

This vote will likely have lasting effects on Billings, as the LGBT community is likely to continue pushing for such a measure. The divisive issue also divided the town–and the council–along starkly drawn lines.

Josh Kaib

Josh Kaib is the Assistant Editor of Watchdog Wire. Twitter: @joshkaib

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