First-term Rep. Liz Bangerter, R-Helena, stands out as the first female member of the Church of Latter Day Saints to serve in the Montana Legislature. She was also the only Republican to vote Monday in favor of tabling House Bill 516, which would nullify Missoula's antidiscrimination ordinance and prevent other communities from creating similar civil rights laws.
Bangerter says she voted against the Republican Party line simply because she didn't understand at the time how HB 516 would affect citizens.
"I wanted to make sure I clearly understood the legal ramifications of both the Missoula ordinance and the proposed change in the law," she says.
Bangerter's question is central to a discussion taking place in Helena, where legislators are deciding who should be protected from discrimination. That debate heated up last Friday when opponents and proponents of HB 516 faced off before the House Judiciary Committee. During the hearing, bill sponsor Rep. Kristin Hansen, R-Havre, explained that she introduced the legislation largely because Missoula's ordinance creates an uncertain business climate for industry.
"This is unprecedented, I believe, in the law," Hansen said. "The Missoula Municipal Court cannot create its own rules of civil procedure."
Meanwhile, supporters of codifying stronger protections for LGBT people told the Judiciary Committee that Missoula's ordinance goes a long way toward remedying long-standing discrimination—it's legal to fire people for being homosexual or transgender anywhere in Montana, except for in the Garden City, because of the city's freshly penned law.
"Every day these people live knowing that at any moment these people can be evicted from their homes or fired from their jobs because of who God has called them to love," said Montana Equality Now's Daniel Viehland.
God's will was debated during the hearing. Big Sky Christian Center Pastor Harris Himes stated that homosexual sin is so great that God says gay people should be put to death.
"Homosexuality and transgender and all of these things is an abomination to God," Himes said.
As for Bangerter, on Tuesday she reversed her stance, voting on the House floor, along with 61 other representatives, in favor of prohibiting local communities from implementing ordinances like Missoula's.
"My job is to represent the people of my district," she says. "That is what I try to do."