Montana Legislature Moves to Stop Towns from Covering Sexual Orientation and Gender in Anti-Discrimination Laws

The Montana State House is currently considering legislation that would prevent the city of Missoula from implementing an anti-discrimination ordinance that includes protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity and expression. The legislation, proposed by Republican State Rep. Kristin Hansen, would prohibit local governments from going farther than state law in enacting protected classes, was passed out of committee after they rejected an effort to expand the state law. Since Montana does not have a statewide protection for sexual orientation or gender identity, Missoula’s more far-reaching anti-discrimination ordinance would be nullified if Hansen’s bill passes. The Missoulian reports:

The Republican majority on the House Judiciary Committee approved a bill Monday that would effectively overturn Missoula's 2010 ordinance banning discrimination against city residents based on their sexual orientation and gender.

House Bill 516 by Rep. Kristin Hansen, R-Havre, now moves to the House floor for debate this week.

It would prohibit local governments from enacting ordinances or policies that seek to protect residents from real or perceived discrimination based on their sexual orientation and gender as the cities of Missoula did through an ordinance and Bozeman did through a policy.

The panel voted earlier Monday to table HB514 by Rep. Edie McClafferty, D-Butte, which would have broadened the Montana Human Rights Act to prohibit discrimination statewide based on gender identity or expression and sexual orientation. The move to table her bill came after the bill was rejected 14-6.

The debate over the bill was fraught with fear mongering from right-wing activists about threats to women and children if the ordinance was upheld and the “punishment” for gays and lesbians:

Leading the support for Hansen's bill were two Bitterroot Valley conservatives who were outspoken opponents of the Missoula ordinance last year.

Harris Himes, representing the Montana Eagle Forum, called the Missoula ordinance "unconstitutional on its face."

"There are those of us who would not to rent to gay and lesbian people for religious reasons," said Himes, a Hamilton pastor.

Pressed later by Rep. Ellie Hill, D-Missoula, what those religious reasons are, Himes said: "It is God himself who says that homosexuality is an abomination, and he has various punishments for that, too." Hill asked what those punishments are, and Himes quoted Leviticus saying that homosexuals "surely shall be put to death."

Dallas Erickson of Montana Citizens for Decency through Law, said, "This law in Missoula means that a person with a penis can now go into the showers where the people with vaginas have gone."

Erickson said he knows Ravalli County residents who won't take their children into Missoula businesses "because they don't know if they're going to confronted in the restroom with a different gender."