A bill that would prohibit local municipalities from enacting ordinances that include sexual orientation as a protected class from discrimination, passed its first hurdle in the Montana Senate on Friday.
Representative Kris Hansen’s bill would prevent local governments from protecting certain classes of people who are not protected under state law. Legislators amended the bill to apply only to local ordinances and not to resolutions or policies.
The measure would effectively nullify the city of Missoula’s 2010 ordinance that protects its LGBT citizens from employment, housing and other forms of discrimination because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
The 2009 Montana Human Rights Act does not include protections based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
Opponents say the bill is targeted against the gay community and would meddle with a local government’s right to govern itself.
“Localities have the right and the legal ability to go beyond the Montana Human Rights Act,” said the Montana Human Rights Network, in a statement last month.
“The Montana Human Rights Act sets the floor. It does not set the ceiling. Cities have the authority to establish ordinances and policies that protect and value members of their communities that have faced a history of discrimination.”
The bill passed along party lines in a 5-4 vote in the Senate Local Government Committee, and now it’s headed to the Senate floor for further debate. The bill passed in the House last month.
Also on Friday, a Montana legislative committee killed a bill that would have decriminalized homosexual sex — keeping a law on the books that was ruled unconstitutional by the state Supreme Court in 1997, and the U.S. Supreme Court in 2003.