Montana Public Radio

Montana Republicans Kill LGBTQ Non-Discrimination Bill

Feb 20, 2017

In a party line vote today, Republican lawmakers killed a bill aiming to protect lesbian, gay and transgender people under Montana’s civil rights laws.

HB-417, introduced by Billings Democrat Kelly McCarthy, proposed adding gender identity or expression, and sexual orientation to the list of protected classes under Montana’s non-discrimination laws.

Like similar proposals over the past two decades, HB 417 failed. The bill died in a 11-8 vote, days after its first hearing in the state legislature.

Rep. Lola Sheldon-Galloway (R) HD-22.
Credit Montana Legislature

Opponents of the bill said it would allow men to walk in on women in the bathroom, infringe on the rights of religious people to practice their beliefs, and go against the will of God.

Lola Sheldon-Galloway, a Republican from Great Falls, says the bill isn't necessary and will lead to more people wanting protection under state law:

"And next time we're gonna have another group that wants their name in here, and another group, and another group. But we already have a word in here that covers this."

Sheldon-Galloway is referring to Montana’s law that prohibits discrimination against someone because of their sex.

She says she is not trying to divide the LGBT community, but include them in the state's existing laws.

During the bill's hearing last week, individuals testified that they had been fired from their job and prevented from renting a home because they were gay.

Again, Sheldon- Galloway:

"The stories that we heard were wrong. They were absolutely wrong. But, you are already protected and I will stand with you in that protection," Sheldon Galloway says.

Rep. Jenny Eck (D) HD79.
Credit Montana Legislature

"What we are hearing from the LGBT community is that they are not protected," says Missoula Democrat Jenny Eck.

"The language that exists is not enough, unfortunately. And if it were enough, then we wouldn't even need to have this conversation," Eck says. "But the fact of the matter is people are being discriminated against and protections aren't in the law as it currently stands. It's a dead-end for people who go to the courts and look for protection from discrimination."

After the House Judiciary committee voted down the bill, it was tabled. The bill to include LGBT people in the state's non-discrimination law cannot be revived without a supermajority vote in the state House of Representatives. Republicans hold a majority in Montana's House and Senate.