In a future editorial, we'll discuss the need for the Billings City Council to pass the proposed nondiscrimination ordinance.
This is not that editorial.
This editorial is about what the NDO is not.
Sometimes democracy and public input get messy. And nowhere is this more evident than in the ultra-charged environment of the NDO. But in the midst of Monday's public comment period, the conversation centered on the legitimacy of gay people. In other words, it became a referendum on being gay.
While the council seemed to show proper restraint by not engaging in an argument, we cannot let the comments pass without stating clearly that many of the statements made only demonstrated how twisted this issue has become.
The NDO is not a referendum on being gay. It's not about whether the majority of citizens believe it's a choice or a lifestyle. It's not about whether gay couples make good parents. It's not even about affording them the same right to marry as heterosexual couples enjoy.
This issue is simple: It would make discrimination based on sexual orientation illegal.
We question some of the suspicious "data" that was presented as fact, especially by Jeff Laszloffy's Montana Family Foundation. His presentation was nothing more than opinion masquerading as science. When he was asked to present the methodology his group had used in its polling, he refused.
This is not an ordinance about being gay. It is an ordinance about ending discrimination. We would like to think that even if residents believe that being gay is somehow a choice, few would want to see discrimination in the community, period. Being discriminatory should at the very least offend our innate sense of justice as Americans, and even more so if we are religious. Most religions we can think of have injunctions against discrimination, and most speak about treating others as they would like to be treated. Discrimination, bluntly put, has no place for a secular or religious community.
One of the more disturbing undercurrents in this NDO debate is the notion of putting the decision to a public vote. Besides prolonging the issue even longer, which would only deepen divisions in our community, putting it to a vote would seem to represent a lack of leadership.
We should not have to vote on discrimination as a community. This should be an issue we can trust to the leadership of the council. The idea that a community could vote down — essentially endorse discrimination against some minority members — is frightening.
Let's remember: That's what the NDO is really about. It's about giving a person the security that he or she cannot be discriminated against. This doesn't, as some have argued, give any special privileges. In fact, it grants none. All the NDO says is that if someone is treated unfairly, they have recourse.
The ordinance is exactly as its name suggests: nondiscrimination. What could be more straightforward than that?