Gazette opinion: Council should vote for equal protection under the law

2014-08-10T00:00:00Z Gazette opinion: Council should vote for equal protection under the law The Billings Gazette
August 10, 2014 12:00 am

Is it OK for a good worker to be fired because her employer learned she is lesbian?

Is it right for a landlord to refuse to rent to otherwise qualified tenants because they are gay?

Should local businesses be allowed to refuse service to people because they appear to be transgender?

The answers are: No, no, no!

Yet these questions are at the heart of debate on the non-discrimination ordinance up for consideration at the end of Monday’s Billings City Council agenda. And several council members have, so far, refused to take a stand against discrimination.

One recent email to the City Council was a mother’s plea for protection of her gay son:

“He and others in our city must be protected so that they can contribute to society, support themselves and live without constant fear. Fear of losing their job because of who they are, fear of losing their residence, and many more biased issues that the rest of us have no idea exist in our community.”

The non-discrimination ordinance is about equal protection under the law. It would recognize that LGBT folks should have the same rights to live and work in Billings as everybody else does.

Everybody benefits with the NDO. Billings will be known as a safer, more welcoming city embracing the diversity that attracts new businesses and families. The LGBT minority will be assured that city law protects them the same as it protects all residents and visitors. People who believe LGBT people are wrong or sinful will continue to be free to think and pray whatever they want. However, no one will be able to discriminate in business transactions, hiring or housing.

We ask all 11 council members to open their minds and hearts. If you can’t vote for the NDO out of compassion and concern for your LGBT constituents, vote for it because it will be good for business.

The council should make two important decisions tonight on the NDO.

- First the members should vote preliminary approval of the ordinance.

- Then the council should vote to withdraw its ill-considered request for an attorney general’s opinion.

Don’t ask AG to decide

The warnings from City Administrator Tina Volek and City Attorney Brent Brooks ring true today as they did the night six of 11 council members voted – without giving any public notice of what they were considering – to let Attorney General Tim Fox decide if Billings is allowed to enact an NDO. It was a move to kill, or at least delay, the NDO.

Finally, we ask the council to consider that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that a state cannot prohibit cities and counties from enacting non-discrimination laws.

In a Colorado case (Romer v. Evans), the court threw out a voter-approved amendment that barred cities and counties from enacting laws that would protect LGBT people from discrimination. That 1992 referendum passed after some Colorado cities, including Aspen, Boulder and Denver, enacted non-discrimination ordinances.

Writing for the 6-3 majority in 1996, Justice Anthony Kennedy said the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution “requires us to hold invalid” the Colorado amendment.

Stories of suffering

Ward 5 Councilman Ken Crouch, who has worked in Christian ministry since 1961, has heard many stories of heartache and rejection of LGBT people. Stories of sons and daughters dying by suicide. Churches telling gay and lesbian youth they would go to hell. Verbal abuse, pushing, shoving and worse in high schools and colleges.

For Crouch, the NDO decision is clear. He would like to see a unanimous vote in favor, but hopes for any majority.

Billings won’t be blazing a new trail with this non-discrimination ordinance. Similar laws have been in place for decades in major cities, such as Denver and Dallas and for four years in Missoula. LGBT folks feel more comfortable in those cities, and those welcoming, diverse communities thrive. Billings should be such a city.

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

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