As the U.S. Supreme Court hears a case on LGBT discrimination protection this week, the Billings City Council canceled plans to introduce a nondiscrimination ordinance this month because of uncertainty surrounding its passage.
Ward 1 City Council Member Brent Cromley posted on Facebook last week his decision to not propose an initiative to pass a nondiscrimination ordinance during the October 15 City Council meeting.
"We would have a large public spectacle of opposition and we thought it might be better to wait until the council was a little bit more favorable, a little more predictable in terms of passing it," Cromley said.
Cromley’s proposal would have extended legal protections to LGBT people, making it illegal to deny housing, employment or access to public accommodations based on sexual or gender identity. Montana state law doesn’t have similar protections.
"It’s just an important thing both in terms of human rights and also for the economic stability and growth of the city. I mean we’re trying to compete with other cities for particularly younger populations and we’re not doing that now," Cromley said.
In 2014, Billings voted down a similar ordinance by 6-5. Then Mayor Tom Hanel cast the deciding vote saying he didn’t believe Billings was ready for an nondiscrimination ordinance.
Council Members Shaun Brown and Mike Yakawich voted against the 2014 nondiscrimination ordinance and said it was because their constituents were against it. Both remain on city council and declined to comment on the 2019 policy.
Amelia Marquez helped organize grassroots support for this year’s nondiscrimination ordinance and isa member of the LGBT community.
"So I think it was just a matter of timing and that a lot of folks within the LGBT community just didn’t feel like it was another pressure that we should add on to the current council. That it is something that, while we wish that we had it, it’s probably something that we can wait for until next year," Marquez said.
Missoula, Helena, Butte, Bozeman and Whitefish all have nondiscrimination ordinances. Helena, Bozeman and Whitefish adopted their nondiscrimination ordinances unanimously.