BUTTE – After weeks of consideration and public input, Butte-Silver Bow commissioners voted Wednesday night for a law that bars discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
Supporters applauded after the council voted 10-2 for the ordinance, which will take effect in 30 days. Commissioners Dennis Henderson and John Sorich voted against it.
Butte will join Missoula and Helena as Montana cities with legal protections for lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people in housing, employment and public accommodations.
Meanwhile, a former college professor in Dillon has asked local lawmakers in that city about 60 miles south of Butte to enact something similar.
Richard Turner, 73, submitted a letter to city officials with his request and he planned to read it out loud at the Dillon City Council meeting Wednesday night. Officials in Bozeman also have been asked to consider such a law.
Supporters in Butte said the ordinance would provide civil rights protections not included under Montana law and bolster Butte’s image as an inclusive city that embraces diversity.
“We have always been a community that has stuck up for each other and with passage of this ordinance, it shows we are a community of our word,” said Eddie Zimpel, a Butte resident who has backed unsuccessful efforts to get such protections included in state law.
John and Helen Cummings, who formed a Butte chapter of Parents, Family and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, helped get the issue before commissioners a few months ago. Their grown son, John III, is gay.
Before the vote, John Cummings thanked the council for considering the ordinance, calling it an attempt to “eliminate oppression.”
Butte resident Faith DeWaay, who voiced her opposition to the law at several meetings, did so again Wednesday night. She said if the proposal was put before a vote of Butte residents, it would fail.
“I think if you pass this law you are taking sides of one group over the other,” she said.
DeWaay, as many opponents have said, believes the ordinance could be used to trample on religious freedoms. She also said supporters would not stop with just the ordinance.
“They are demanding that we think that they are really wonderful,” she said earlier Wednesday.
Turner, who used to teach English at the University of Montana Western in Dillon, said he wants Dillon city officials to consider a similar ordinance because “it’s always good to expand civil rights to all of the people in our country.”
“I don’t think it makes our city look good if our city holds out in a statewide movement to expand rights to gays and lesbians,” he said.