After 6-5 defeat, nondiscrimination ordinance's future clouded

2014-08-12T18:02:00Z 2014-08-18T21:23:05Z After 6-5 defeat, nondiscrimination ordinance's future cloudedBy MIKE FERGUSON mferguson@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

The NDO acronym could take on a new form. Call it the “never dies ordinance.”

Fresh off the ordinance’s 6-5 defeat early Tuesday, a pair of Billings City Council members said they’ll let it rest — for now.

But it’s going to come up again, Councilwoman Jani McCall said, although Roberts Rules of Order requires that the reconsideration come from one of the six council members voting against the ordinance — Mayor Tom Hanel or members Shaun Brown, Rich McFadden, Mike Yakawich, Angela Cimmino or Denis Pitman.

McCall, Ken Crouch, Al Swanson, Brent Cromley and Becky Bird voted in support of the NDO.

“At some point we need to continue this discussion,” McCall said. “I am certainly not giving up, that’s for sure.”

Council members heard more than five hours of NDO testimony Monday night and Tuesday morning before voting at 3:05 a.m. Tuesday, 6-5 against the ordinance, which would have amended city code to prohibit discrimination against people based on sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.

With five council members on each side declaring their yeas and nays, it was up to Hanel to break the tie. Recalling that he moved to Billings 41 years ago, Hanel said, “I love this community dearly, and I love its citizens dearly. I’m concerned about you and your future.”

He concluded that “I do not think Billings is ready at this time for the NDO,” and with those words voted no to conclude the 8 ½-hour meeting.

“I think the city of Billings has turned its back on the LGBT community,” McCall said, adding that she has “second-guessed” the strategy all day Tuesday for voting on the NDO as presented, with language that prohibits discrimination in public accommodations, including restrooms and locker rooms.

Brown said during the meeting that he largely supported the ordinance without that protection, and McFadden at one point moved the ordinance without that section and with a civil remedy alternative that would have precluded the awarding of financial damages upon a successful discrimination complaint.

McFadden’s motion died Tuesday morning for lack of a second.

Cimmino cited constituent lobbying as an important reason for her no vote, as did Yakawich. “I’m here to represent constituents,” Yakawich said. “That’s my first goal.”

“We played our cards with everything in one motion, and I think there might have been another way to do this to get some compromise,” McCall said. “But you can’t go back.”

The LGBT community “did not want a stripped-down version” of the NDO, she said. “I think they want to make sure everyone has the same protections and civil rights. But Rich’s motion made sense. I’m not sure our strategy was the right strategy, but I’m not sure the votes would have been there (for McFadden’s motion).”

“I think the appetite for the council right now for this is zero. I really do,” McCall said. “Thinking out loud, I would think we will go to Rich or Shaun and say, ‘Would you reconsider this?’ It’s unlikely they would because they won, but I think there may be some kind of compromise language to suit everybody on the council.”

“I think it will be several weeks down the road,” she added. “I don’t see us trying to regenerate this in two weeks.”

The meeting that lasted into the early morning Tuesday heard public testimony and ultimately was decided by Hanel’s vote.

Hanel said he applied a standard from Rotary International to help him reach his decision: “I needed to ask myself, is this fair to everyone, beneficial to everyone? Will it build goodwill and friendships? I can’t say for sure,” he said of the NDO.

“There is a gay agenda,” Cromley, who voted for the NDO, told the council before Hanel announced his decision. “They want to be treated as real human beings.”

Dick Pence, who opposed the ordinance, said that in the course of the long debate, “we have been challenged in Billings to treat people fairly, and I think this process will help that. We have been challenged to love each other better and listen to each other better. I think there are issues of a deeper nature that we all need to be aware of.”

Supporter Shauna Goubeaux, who with her wife, Nicole, is a litigant in a Montana marriage equality lawsuit, said she was “stunned” by the council’s decision.

“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.”

The council’s decision will have an especially negative impact on the transgender community, Goubeaux said, citing Marty Elizabeth Ortiz, who testified in support of the ordinance on several occasions.

“She exposed herself to ridicule and hate,” Goubeaux said. “Not having an NDO puts her at greater risk now.”

Crouch, a retired pastor, said he believes the council and the community will need more education before an NDO can be approved.

He pointed out that people who make their arguments by quoting famous Scripture passages, such as John 3:16, sometimes omit the very next verse: “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” He also recalled Peter’s vision in Acts 10, where God declares nothing unclean.

“What I heard was a lot of fear,” Crouch said. “People said, ‘I don’t know what this will do to my business or my church.’ ”

Transgendered people, Crouch said, “are people, and they are precious. They have more violence done to them than any other group. Each year, we have a memorial service for transgendered people who are killed — 200 of them worldwide, and a lot right here in the U.S. It is heartbreaking.”

Crouch said that while he believes a different version of the NDO would be met with council approval, “it’s not one that the transgendered community would be happy about.”

“I will certainly work to get an NDO passed,” Crouch said, “but I think it will be quiet for awhile.”

Copyright 2014 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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