Critics of a bill to outlaw discrimination against gays and lesbians in Montana turned the tables on advocates Wednesday by attacking the measure as discriminating against the religious beliefs of those who abhor homosexuality. Calling homosexuality "an abomination in God's sight," Peter Merkes of Helena said the proposal is an affront to those who live their lives and run their businesses based on a faith instructing that same-gender sex is wrong. "You're asking Christian people to support with their tax money something that is diametrically opposed to God's word," he told members of the house judiciary committee. "We cannot go there. God's going to hold you accountable."
Supporters of the bill said it doesn't bestow any special privileges or protections on gays and lesbians that are not already provided other citizens based on their race, creed, religion, color, sex, physical or mental disability, age, or national origin. "This bill is really about fair treatment," said Sen. Ken Toole, a Helena Democrat and sponsor of the bill. His proposal adds sexual orientation to the human rights laws against discrimination in employment, public accommodations, housing, financial transactions, education, job referrals, licensing, training programs, government services and funding, and public contracts. It already passed the senate 26-23, something that angered minority Republicans who in past sessions were able to use their majorities to stop such bills.
The Reverend F. Vernon Wright of the Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ said those who point to a biblical passage as proof that God condemns homosexuality should keep in mind that similar passages also sanction purchase of slaves, selling of daughters, and death to anyone who works on the Sabbath. Like gender or race, homosexuality is not a matter of preference and should not be treated as such, he said. "One's inborn characteristics, one's innate nature, being in the nature of God is not wrong."
Foes warned the bill would force employers to hire gays and lesbians and organizations to accept them as members even if homosexuality conflicts with their religious tenets. Gene Williams of Hamilton complained of "drag queens," "French-kissing men," and those who march in gay pride parades dressed as priests and nuns. He said the bill is part of an effort by gay and lesbian activists to "eventually force total acceptance of homosexuality by citizens of this nation. The American people will not allow this cultural degradation to prevail."