Saying he doesn’t believe Billings is ready for a nondiscrimination ordinance, Mayor Tom Hanel cast the decisive vote just past 3 a.m. Tuesday to defeat the long-debated measure.
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.
The vote was 6-5, with council members Shaun Brown, Rich McFadden, Denis Pitman, Angela Cimmino and Mike Yakwich joining Hanel against the ordinance, which would have amended city code to protect people from being discriminated against on the bases of sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.
In support of the proposal were council members Becky Bird, Jani McCall, Brent Cromley, Al Swanson and Ken Crouch.
Brown said he wasn’t against a majority of the ordinance, but did oppose a section that would have prohibited discrimination in public accommodations — namely, restrooms and locker rooms.
He said he also opposed alternates that would have allowed for monetary damages to people successfully arguing they were discriminated against.
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.”
“There is a gay agenda,” Cromley told the council before Hanel announced his decision. “They want to be treated as real human beings.”
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.”
For McCall, the ordinance was “about equality and fairness.”
Bird noted that the council had “sat for months and heard from people who have experienced threats and intimidation and hatefulness.” She said some of her colleagues displayed “an abject refusal to hear that voice and validate their very real experience. It’s shameful.”
Crouch, a retired pastor, 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 thee world might be saved through him.” He also recalled Peter’s vision in Acts 10, where God declares nothing unclean.
McFadden argued for limited government in opposing the ordinance. “Not every problem, real or imagined, is for the government to fix,” he said.
Pitman said he was disappointed “how much this issue has divided the council and the community.”
As he prepared to gavel the 8 1/2 hour meeting to a close, Hanel urged those in attendance to “walk out of here as professionals.”
“We were all created equal,” he said. “If you can’t sit by someone who disagrees with you, shame on you.”