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Montana anti-gay bill fizzles in state Senate due to lack of support

Sunday, March 27, 2011
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HELENA, Mont. — A bill in the Montana state legislature that would overturn a Missoula city ordinance that protects gay people from discrimination, was pulled from the Senate floor last week because it lacked support from GOP leadership.

The measure, House Bill 516, would prohibit local municipalities from enacting ordinances that include, as a protected class from discrimination, any groups not included under the Montana Human Rights Act — the Act currently does not include protections based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

Sen. Jon Sonju said he moved the measure back to committee because it doesn’t have the support of Senate leaders, and was doubtful the measure would make it back to the Senate floor.

The bill would have nullified 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.

It would also prohibit other Montana cities from establishing laws to prevent discrimination against gays and lesbians.

The bill passed in the state House on Feb. 22 by a vote of 60-39, and approved by the Senate Local Government Committee on March 18.

Rep. Kristin Hansen (R-Havre), the bill’s author, said it was necessary to stop Missoula and other cities from establishing their own criteria for protecting people from discrimination.

Hansen called the Missoula law protecting LGBT citizens from discrimination “an unconstitutional ordinance that infringes on the state’s authority.”

Opponents claim the bill is targeted against the gay community and interfered with local a government’s rights 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.”

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