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Montana politics, elections and legislative news

Debate Over LBGT Civil Rights Reaches MT Campaigns

Anthony Romero, attorney and executive director, of the ACLU
Courtesy ACLU

Debate over new law in North Carolina aimed at civil rights for the LBGT community has become a campaign issue across the country, including Montana’s gubernatorial contest.Anthony Romero, attorney and executive director of the ACLU, is scheduled to be in Montana April 13 and 14, 2016 to discuss this and other civil liberty issues. 

Romero says the North Carolina law will be challenged in court. House Bill 2 was signed into law March 23, 2016. It basically prohibits local governments from extending civil rights protections to gays and transgender people.

He calls it a thinly veiled attack on the advances for LBGT rights, including a recognition of same-sex marriages. 

“First off, the opponents to LBGT equality, they’ve lost,” says Romero. “This is almost done. We have marriage equality across the country like it or not.”

He says husbands-and-husbands or wives-and-wives are living in communities.

“That’s our America today,” Romero says. “You could bemoan it. You can try to fight it, but you will lose. And you will be remembered in history books as the bigot who stood against full equality for LBGT couples or LBGT individuals in the clear face that it is occurring.”

Romero says people should know anti-discrimination laws aren’t an endorsement of the LBGT agenda. Rather he says it’s about respecting the right of individuals to live free from discrimination.

Romero says corporate America understands this. Already large corporations are re-thinking whether to do business in North Carolina. Pay Pal this week withdrew expansion plans in Charlotte because of that state’s new law.

“If state leaders allow their states to become hotbeds for bigotry and prejudice, people will move, people will sell homes, people will sell businesses, people will take jobs elsewhere or won’t take jobs in those states,” Romero says. “And it will be the race to the bottom.”

Immediately following Pay Pal’s announcement Wednesday, Democratic Governor Steve Bullock, who faces re-election this year, was quick to contact the company about expanding its operations in Montana instead. Both Bullock and Senator Jon Tester signed that letter of invitation.

It was a political strike at Bullock’s likely Republican opponent in November, Greg Gianforte. The Bozeman businessman has been asked repeatedly his stand on this issue.

Supporters of bills like the one in North Carolina are often call them a defense of “religious freedom.”

A bill on this issue was debated at the 2015 Montana Legislature. House Bill 615 missed the deadline to become a Legislative Referendum and be placed on the 2016 ballot.

Gianforte has said repeatedly he is against discrimination. But he refused to answer directly when asked by Yellowstone Public Radio if he would sign a so-called “religious freedom” bill if elected governor.

Romero thinks that’s problematic. He points out the ACLU is a non-partisan organization and it has challenged Democrats and Republicans for their stances on issues.

“I don’t think there is anywhere to hide on this debate,” he says. “And I think what is very clear is that people retain their rights to exercise their religious beliefs. They retain their rights to disagree with laws and policies and politics. But we don’t get a chance to opt out from the basic rules that govern our engagement with each other.”

That would lead to chaos, he says.

He says the debate over whether same sex couple should be free from discrimination is done.

“Either you are understanding the context of the circumstances or you are living in the past and history will remember those leaders for the recalcitrance,” Romero says.

“We remember Bull Connor as much as we remember Rosa Parks,” he says making reference to two opposing historical figures in the American Civil Rights struggle.

Romero is scheduled to speak in Missoula at the University of Montana April 13, 2016 before traveling to Bozeman for an event at Montana State University on April 14, 2016. All events are free and open to the public. The organizers are requesting people register to make sure there are adequate seats available for the events.

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