The crowd was expansive and raucous; many said it was the most to ever show up for a Missoula City Council meeting. Chanting spectators, patrolling police officers, honking horns and signs held high - it was a circus. The sea of people had gathered anticipating the Missoula City Council's vote on whether or not to adopt the first equality ordinance in the state to protect people from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
As I walked through the chaos, I found myself identifying with both of the opposing views converged there. My anti-ordinance friends greeted me with uncomfortable hellos. They didn't want to be there. Most came out of a sense of urgency feeling that this ordinance was not only promoting an immoral lifestyle it was part of a larger agenda to normalize deviant sexual behavior in society. Though they'd rather quietly practice their beliefs in their churches and homes, they felt this was a direct attack on their faith, their families and would be dangerous to the overall health of our society.
My pro-ordinance friends greeted me with broad smiles and cheery hellos. They were thrilled to be there. Most came out of a conviction that this was akin to a civil rights march from the '60s. They felt this ordinance was a significant step toward human equality. They do not believe differing sexual orientations are abnormal; they believe attempts to suppress personal freedoms because of sexual orientation is abnormal and dangerous to the overall health of our society.
I knew many folks in the throng on both sides of this ordinance. They may not define "family" the same way, but they practice it the same way - lovingly (most of the time). They may not agree what "normal" sexual behavior is but, aside from some handholding and modest public kisses, they practice sex the same way - privately. They all drive, shop, work, pay bills, eat, do laundry, worry, sleep, go to doctors, cry. Whether they admit it or not, those aligned against each other over this ordinance had almost everything in common, except this ordinance and each other.
That is, until that night.
When the chamber doors opened the mass of humanity suddenly pressed in trying to secure one of the prized ringside seats inside. "This is the closest these folks have ever been to one another," I thought to myself with a smile. Pro and anti, conservative and liberal, gay and straight were suddenly all pressed tightly together in a giant scrum. Furthermore, they remained tightly packed in the city chambers for hours and hours of public comment.
Thanks to our mayor's firm but gentle oversight and a profound display of kindness and goodness from those present, all who wanted to make comment did. Every view point and counter point imaginable was shared sometimes with compelling, heart-stopping drama. I felt like I was witnessing a modern day fulfillment of Jesus' promise when he said, "You're blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That's when you discover who you really are, and your place in God's family" (Matthew 5:8).
In the end, the ordinance passed by a wide majority. Some left the chambers downcast, others left jubilant but nobody left the same. We saw ourselves, widely differing worldviews and all, dwelling together in tight quarters, in peace. If it can happen in our city's chambers it can happen in our city's streets, workplaces and neighborhoods.
Some say nothing changed, I say everything changed. Blessed are the peacemakers ...you and I!
Glen Moyer is Clothman. You can contact him at PO Box 3561, Missoula, MT 59806 or www.clothman.com.