Bozeman’s non-discrimination ordinance cleared its first hurdle on Monday night.
Bozeman City Commissioners voted 4-0 in favor of the ordinance that is aimed at protecting gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people against discrimination in the workplace, housing and public accommodations.
Prior to Monday’s meeting, RightNow Technologies founder Greg Gianforte emailed commissioners four proposed amendments to the ordinance. Gianforte’s wife, Susan Gianforte, was a vocal opponent of the ordinance early on, but has not been in attendance at recent City Commission meetings that have addressed the ordinance.
Several people speaking against the non-discrimination ordinance on Monday cited the “four changes” proposed in Gianforte’s email, asking commissioners to make those amendments.
Those four suggested changes included: rewording language regarding the definition of “employer” to address hiring by faith-based organizations, modifying a section on public accommodations to exempt churches and religious associations that offer spaces for public events, adding language exempting businesses from providing services that violate their religious beliefs such as wedding venues and wedding planners, and adding wording that excludes bathrooms and locker rooms from public accommodations.
While Deputy Mayor Carson Taylor proposed three amendments to the ordinance, they were not in line with Gianforte’s recommendations, Taylor said.
Two of Taylor’s amendments passed unanimously, including adding religious schools to the definition under “employer” and broadening the definition for public accommodations so that in a situation where goods or facilities are being provided for a service that is primarily religious in nature, it’s still considered a religious activity that is protected and not subject to public accommodation.
A third amendment lowering the membership from 100 to 50 members as the definition of a public accommodation establishment failed.
After hearing about two hours of public comment on the matter, commissioners gave their opinions about the proposed ordinance.
Commissioner I-Ho Pomeroy said her experience is from the perspective of a business owner and someone who moved here from Korea as a stranger.
As a business owner, she is motivated by making a profit, she said, adding if a gay couple came to her and asked her to cater their wedding, she would.
“This great community accepted me,” Pomeroy said. “Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender people are also part of this community. Everyone is welcome here. That is why I support this ordinance.”
Commissioner Cyndy Andrus also voiced strong support for the ordinance.
“I want to live in a community where all are treated equally. Period,” Andrus said. “We are simply looking at an ordinance that treats all people equally and fairly, and I support the non-discrimination ordinance.”
Commissioner Chris Mehl said since the conversation on the ordinance started earlier this year he has explored whether there is a need for such protections.
“I’m convinced, sadly, that there is,” he said, adding that he has heard from people who have convinced him that discrimination does exist in Bozeman.
“We are passing an ordinance today in that direction and we ask you to come with us as members of our community,” Mehl said.
Mehl addressed concerns from opponents, including that members of the LGBT community already have legal protections.
“There is no federal and state law that directly applies to this situation,” Mehl said.
Taylor added that while he has heard from opponents who say discrimination does not exist, it is because they have not felt it personally.
“To me the telltale is that the people that need the protection are saying they need the protection and those who see no need for it have no need for it,” Taylor said.
Jamee Greer of the Montana Human Rights Network has been at the forefront of the effort to have Bozeman adopt a non-discrimination ordinance.
“I think the final ordinance that came out is a strong document,” Greer said. “This is something that wasn’t rushed and something the community has been working on for years now.”
The ordinance is expected to go up for final adoption June 2. If it passes the second reading, it will go into effect 30 days later.
Mayor Jeff Krauss was absent from the meeting because of a canceled flight to Bozeman.
Erin Schattauer can be reached at 582-2628 or firstname.lastname@example.org. She’s on Twitter at @erinschattauer.