Likely while you were asleep Wednesday morning, Billings Mayor Tom Hanel cast the deciding vote, breaking a tie to table the controversial nondiscrimination ordinance.
Well, technically, he didn’t table the nondiscrimination ordinance because there’s never been one presented for public comment or review.
The mayor’s logic was that this wasn’t the right time and that the city needed to “give it a break.”
But we have news for Hanel and the other five councilmembers who voted to postpone the issue: This issue isn’t going away. Take a look at last week’s lawsuit that will challenge Montana’s ban on gay marriage in the federal courts. That is just one of many currently in the federal court system.
Table it in Billings, if you like, but we’ll deal with it one way or another.
More than that, this issue of non-discrimination won’t go away anytime soon because there’s a changing understanding of how we treat people and the discrimination that exists because of someone’s sexual orientation. The non-discrimination ordinance, at its concept, doesn’t ask for the city or the city government to endorse anyone, it just says others can’t discriminate because of sexual identification or orientation.
That’s about as simple as it gets: Billings needs to say we won’t accept discrimination.
On one hand, Wednesday morning’s vote (it was in the final moments of a very long council meeting), wasn’t the final say. A version of the ordinance and public comments are still set for a June 9 meeting.
However, Wednesday’s tabling of the issue, led by councilmember Shaun Brown, sent a dangerous message to folks outside of Billings: That we are not the kind of place that values diversity. We risk accepting second-class treatment of some of its citizens.
As Billings continues to grow, it will undoubtedly become more diverse. That will be both a challenge for the town and a huge benefit for us. We must ensure that we are the type of community that is open to that diversity and we live up to the promise of two decades ago when we stood against intolerance and mistreatment of those who didn’t look like us or believe the same things we do.
Billings’ heritage demands better than just trying to bury this issue, foolishly hoping it will go away.
We don’t know what councilmembers Denis Pitman, Mike Yakawich, Angela Cimmino, Richard McFadden and Brown were thinking as they voted for tabling the motion. In their zeal to calm the roiled political waters, they may have had just the opposite effect.
Tabling the motion doesn’t mean it will go away. The idea will not die by ignoring it.
Instead, tabling the issue just draws more attention to it and may prolong the debate.
This is an important topic and it deserves a straightforward conversation. There are indeed heated, passionate views on both sides of this issue. Controversy is part of local politics and our city council should have the fortitude to withstand the spirited debate that will happen.
Instead, the council has opted to treat Billings residents like children, tabling the topic before a discussion could even happen, paternally telling us we’re not ready for the debate.
City officials had smartly scheduled the conversation after the budget hearings so that the council’s plate could be cleared to have debate without it tripping up the financial process that must be wrapped up.
So, we hope that sometime in June the ordinance will still be discussed, public comment heard, and the council reconsider its decision which had more to do with a long night’s meeting than any ulterior motive to scuttle this important issue.
Give it a break?
Give us a break.