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Several Butte-Silver Bow commissioners expect an ordinance to bar discrimination based on sexual orientation will pass this week. But even if it doesn’t some backers plan a Sunday potluck dinner open to anyone – including their opponents.

And regardless of what happens in Butte, efforts to pass a similar ordinance in Bozeman are underway and more Montana cities could take up the issue.

“Butte is considering it now and Bozeman is on the docket,” The Montana Family Foundation, which opposes such laws on religious grounds, says in a podcast. “Look for Kalispell, Billings and Great Falls to be approached next.”

The group claims it has received hundreds of “vile” emails who supporters of antidiscrimination laws. But the “Embrace Diversity” dinner planned for Sunday is to keep dialogue going and enhance understanding of those who are lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgendered or queer, said John Cummings, a Butte resident leading efforts for an ordinance here.

“We think most opposition comes from people who don’t understand so we will invite people who are opposed to it and supporters and really start the process of getting people to understand the LGBTQ community,” Cummings said Monday.

The council is expected to vote on the proposed ordinance Wednesday night, and some commissioners — including Council Chairwoman Cindi Shaw and Judiciary Committee Chairman Bill Andersen — expect it to pass. If it does, a new law prohibiting such discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations would take effect 30 days later. Butte would join Missoula and Helena with such laws.

Cummings and his wife, Helen, organized a Butte chapter of Parents, Family and Friends of Lesbians and Gays and helped get the issue before commissioners a few months ago.

Although the proposal has stirred some controversy in Butte, the discourse – at least publicly – has been civil.

More than 150 people attended a public hearing before commissioners last month and as many opponents spoke as supporters. About a dozen police officers were on hand in case things turned ugly, but they did not.

Eddie Zimpel, a Butte resident who has backed efforts to get similar language enacted into Montana law, said the dialogue here has been civil.

Some supporters and opponents talked with one another at the courthouse for a couple of hours after the public hearing, he said.

“It wasn’t yelling. It was agreeing on some things overall,” Zimpel said. “I think both sides have been polite and cordial.”

But according to the Montana Family Foundation, not all of the dialogue has been civil.

Among podcasts on the group’s website is one by the foundation’s president, Jeff Laszloffy, entitled “Religious Freedom Threatened in Butte.”

He says efforts for local ordinances are being led by the American Civil Liberties Union of Montana and the Montana Human Rights Network because their efforts to get a state law have failed in the Montana Legislature.

Indeed, in lieu of a state law, the groups acknowledge such a strategy.

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Laszloffy says both sides were adamant about their positions during the public hearing in Butte. Before the hearing, he notes, supporters handed out guidelines asking those on their side to be polite and not attack the other side when speaking.

But he said when the foundation encouraged its backers to attend the public hearing and speak, it was attacked “behind the scenes.”

“We received hundreds of the most vile emails imaginable – none of it fit for print and many that talk about looking forward to the day when religion is gone from the face of America,” he says in the podcast.

A telephone message seeking comment was left Monday with the foundation.

Cummings said he expects many supporters of the ordinance to attend the council meeting and he hopes many people – regardless of their stance – attend the dinner.

Zimpel agrees.

“It doesn’t stop here with this meeting,” he said. “We are trying to be more inclusive and to bridge those gaps between the two sides and hopefully we will understand and we won’t have to have these conversations anymore.”

- Contact Smith at mike.smith@mtstandard.com or 405-496-5511.

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