HELENA (AP) — Republicans running the Legislature made it clear Monday that they favor a plan at the Legislature to squash Missoula's ordinance protecting residents from discrimination based on sexual orientation.
The Republican majority on the House Judiciary Committee backed a plan that bars Missoula and other cities from establishing their own criteria for those protected from discrimination, sending the proposal to the full House floor with a decisive 13-7 vote.
Rep. Kris Hansen, R-Havre, carried the legislation and voted for it.
The panel on Monday also voted against a plan backed by Democrats to add protections for "gender identity or expression and sexual orientation" to the statewide anti-discrimination law that forbids discrimination based on race, religion and several other factors.
Advocates have long tried, with no success, to get the Legislature to enact discrimination protections based on sexual orientation. But Missoula last year passed a local ordinance protecting residents from housing and employment discrimination based on "actual or perceived" sexual orientation and gender identity, since the state had never done so.
Republicans argue that cities should not be allowed to add classes of citizens protected from discrimination. They said the state policy establishing who gets protected should trump the local desire to expand the list in the Montana Human Rights Act.
Democrats and advocates argued that Republicans who often denounce a heavy-handed federal government are being hypocritical for now using the might of the Legislature to undermine Missoula's thoroughly debated local plans. Supporters of Missoula's plan say nothing in the state law forbids local ordinances on the matter.
"After decades of the state failing to protect LGBT Montanans, the House Judiciary Committee decided to take away the right of localities to protect their own residents," said Jamee Greer, with the Montana Human Rights Network. "It has long been a priority of the Network that all LGBT Montanans deserve to live their lives and fully participate in their communities without fear of losing their jobs or housing because of their sexual orientation or gender identity and expression."
The blow to gay rights advocates follows a surprising victory in a Senate committee Friday that decided to allow a Senate floor vote on a plan to repeal a Montana law declaring homosexual acts illegal. The language remains in the code even though the state Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional and unenforceable in 1997.