BOZEMAN — Five Bozeman residents are suing the city, the mayor and city commissioners arguing that the city did not have the legal authority to enact an ordinance that prohibits discrimination based on a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.
In June, Bozeman became the fourth Montana city to pass an ordinance banning such discrimination in the workplace, housing and public accommodations. The complaint filed by attorney Michael San Souci in District Court this week asks the court to declare the ordinance invalid.
The plaintiffs — Peter Arnone, Dave Baldwin, Ross Hartman, Dawnette Osen and Sharon Swanson — argue commissioners overstepped their authority in passing the ordinance despite legal opinions advising against it.
Both sides say the court’s ruling will have implications for similar laws in Missoula, Helena and Butte.
The complaint says state law doesn’t allow local governments to exercise any power that applies to any private or civil relationship, or any law that affects landlords with regard to tenants.
The complaint also says the state constitution gives District Court original jurisdiction in cases involving matters of equity. Bozeman’s ordinance says anyone who feels discriminated against under the ordinance can petition Municipal Court.
Deputy Mayor Carson Taylor, who is named in the lawsuit, said he doesn’t think the ordinance is illegal.
“I’d much rather the people in the city decided not to discriminate, rather than go to the trouble to go to court to get the authority to discriminate,” Taylor told KTVM-TV. “But that being what it is, I look forward to the court making a decision on the validity of the nondiscrimination ordinance and putting the issue to rest.”
The Billings City Council defeated a nondiscrimination ordinance in a 6-5 vote after an 8 1/2-hour meeting earlier this month. City staff had recommended passing the ordinance but delaying its enforcement until state Attorney General Tim Fox responds to a request for an opinion on whether the city has the authority to enact it.