News & Updates
A Big Week In Montana
Over the past 11 years we’ve produced over 1,000 of these legislative updates. Some weeks can be a challenge…what do we report on when nothing significant happens? Fortunately, this is not one of those weeks. In fact, so much has happened that the question is, where do we even begin?
So, let’s start with the good news. Although things can always change, it appears at this point that the local Non-Discrimination Ordinances (NDOs) are dead in both Billings and Dillon. That’s great news! It means the politically correct juggernaut ended after passing in only 4 Montana cities. What began with a cry to protect the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) community against discrimination in housing, employment, and public accommodation, ended when the laws that were passed were never used—not event once. The truth became evident that NDOs just weren’t needed. Montanans with wildly divergent world views have learned to tolerate each other without government mandates.
And speaking of government mandates, it appears the queen of government mandates has just been nominated to replace John Walsh as the Democratic candidate for the US Senate—earlier this month, we told you the Democrats would be hard-pressed to find a credible candidate to replace appointed Senator Walsh, who resigned under charges of plagiarism. According to the political pundits, it appears the Democratic Party succumbed to pressure from the Montana teacher’s union and appointed Amanda Curtis; a one-term legislator, high school math teacher, and self-described “anarchist at heart” from Butte. In an attempt to make herself famous with a series of YouTube videos during the last legislative session, she inadvertently provided her opponent with all the ammunition necessary to torpedo her campaign in its early stages. In the end, Curtis’s nomination may wind up damaging the Democratic Party brand as well, because of her trademark firebrand speeches that run off the scale on the political left. Remember, she didn’t get the nomination by winning a primary, she was hand-picked by the Montana teacher’s union and the Democratic Party to be their standard bearer, even though her political baggage was known. One political columnist told me this week that they are expecting a “Howard Dean moment” at some point in the process. And speaking of Howard Dean, his political pack was the first to endorse Curtis when she was nominated. Seriously, you just can’t make this stuff up.
And while we’re on the subject of the Montana teacher’s union and its death grip on the Democratic Party, it was interesting to note this week that Montana’s ACT scores have dropped below the national average. That’s important because those in the education establishment who oppose School Choice, including Eric Feaver, the head of the Montana teacher’s union, Amanda Curtis during her single term as a legislator, and Denise Juneau in her time as head of the Office of Public Instruction, have always opposed School Choice, saying Montana students are near the top in the nation. This, despite the fact that nearly 2,000 kids a year drop out of school, and the ACT results paint a very different picture. At the Montana Family Foundation, we know public policy affects the lives of real people, so it’s important to get it right. And that begins with electing the right people to public office.
NDO Juggernaut Stopped in Billings
Over the past four years, four cities in Montana have enacted sexual orientation/gender identity non-discrimination ordinances, or NDOs; designed to stop discrimination against people for their sexual orientation and gender identity in the areas of housing, employment and public accommodation. It was a seemingly unstoppable juggernaut, but on Tuesday morning at 3 am in the city of Billings, the juggernaut came to a halt when the Billings Mayor Tom Hanel broke a tie and killed the proposed NDO on a 6 – 5 vote
It sent the left reeling! The Billings Gazette threw off all pretense of objectivity and excoriated the council and the mayor. The LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) community, who kept their true colors hidden throughout the six months of the debate, took off their gloves and came out swinging. They filled the blogs and tweeted the most vile insults and threats. And why? Simply because they didn’t get their way. The city council refused to let men who think they are women use women’s restrooms, they refused to force people with strongly held religious beliefs to not just tolerate, but participate in, the homosexual lifestyle, and they refuse to solve problems that don’t exist. Namely, that people are being thrown out of their homes or jobs simply because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. In short, they came to the same conclusion that the legislature has for the past 15 years and that is that NDO’s are not necessary, and that they create the very real possibility of unintended consequences.
We know NDOs are not needed, because in the four Montana cities that have passed them, they’ve never been used—not even once! The ultimate goal here is not to simply pass these municipal ordinances, because they have no teeth. The real goal is to get enough cities to pass NDOs to put pressure on the legislature to pass a statewide law. That’s where the unintended consequences begin. In states that have passed these laws, men are now using women’s restrooms and locker rooms, people are being fined, sent to sensitivity training, and threatened with jail time for refusing to participate in same-sex wedding ceremonies, and the New Mexico Supreme Court even went so far as to say that people with deeply held religious beliefs may be forced to compromise those beliefs for the greater good of society! These are the real consequences of NDOs, and it’s the reason the Billings City Council said no.
So how did it happen? How did one Montana city stop a politically correct juggernaut when others could not? It came down to three things. Prayer, and a well-organized group of local citizens, both of which existed in the other cities that finally passed these, along with the fact that the left finally ran out of liberal cities. In effect, they started with the low hanging fruit, and passing NDOs becomes much more difficult from this point forward. There’s a big difference between the politics in Missoula and the politics in Billings.
So where do we go from here? The remaining city with an active NDO effort is Dillon and the Dillon City Attorney agreed with other City Attorneys across the state who say that ordinances such as NDOs are illegal because they go beyond the authority given to cities. We expect the Dillon NDO to die soon, and that will shift the focus back to the legislature. We expect a full court press when the legislature reconvenes in January, not just on NDO types of laws but on same-sex marriage, same-sex civil unions, and public benefits for same-sex couples. The Billings effort was a small skirmish in a much broader culture war that promises not to end any time soon.
The Truth Puts On Its Shoes
With Christians facing fines, the loss of their businesses, possible jail time, and being sentenced to re-education programs, you might be thinking we are talking about Iran, North Korea, or China, but think again. It’s happening right here in the United States and the victims are regular citizens just like you and me.
It all began with the introduction of laws protecting homosexuals, bisexuals, and transgenders (the LGBT community) from perceived discrimination. These definitions have been added to human rights laws in roughly 18 states and the results have been devastating. To protect the politically correct, new-found rights of one small group, more and more states are trampling the Constitutional guarantees of free speech, religious expression, and free association for the vast majority.
For 15 years we have fought these efforts in the Montana Legislature, and for 15 years we have won. Primarily for two reasons. The Legislature has never found enough evidence of discrimination in this area to warrant making up an entirely new protected class, and they’re worried about the real possibility of unintended consequences. Both concerns have now proven to be legitimate.
So called Non-Discrimination Ordinances (NDOs) have now passed in four Montana cities, mimicking at the municipal level what proponents hope to happen at the state level. Since their inception beginning four years ago, not one of them has been used, not even once. This proves that this type of discrimination does not exist at a level to warrant passing legislation which would grant special rights to the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community. What does exist in the states that have passed these Non-Discrimination laws at the state level is the targeting of Christians and other religious groups who find the homosexual/LGBT lifestyle morally objectionable. These are the people now facing fines, possible jail time, and in the case of a Colorado bakery owner, a sentence of mandatory sensitivity training. They used to call that “re-education”: an effort by the state to force its citizens to adopt the state’s view of an issue, even if it violates the person’s religious beliefs.
Thankfully the tide may be turning. No one wants discrimination in any form, but there has to be some balance, and allowing Christians to be targeted for their beliefs is both discriminatory and is raising alarm bells with an increasing number of public officials. It is also changing the perception of private individuals, as evidenced by a poll that we recently commissioned. With Billings as the next stop on the “NDO-express” and a vote scheduled for August 11th, the Montana Family Foundation asked likely voters in Billings what they thought of the proposed NDO. By a 16% margin, they said that it should be killed. That’s great news given the fact that it will probably face a recall vote if it’s passed.
Another interesting finding was the fact that 88% of likely voters are either “very” or “somewhat familiar” with the issue. Given that extraordinary level of awareness coupled with a low number of “undecided,” it appears the concrete has already begun to set. We even tested numerous arguments from both sides and there was very little change in the numbers. This means people are aware of the issue, they understand the issue, and they’ve made up their minds. This is very good news for our side.
As Mark Twain once said, “A lie gets half-way around the world before the truth has a chance to get its shoes on.” Non-Discrimination Ordinances were passed in four Montana cities as a knee-jerk reaction to perceived discrimination. Now, the truth is catching up and not a moment too soon.
VanDyke Back On The Ballot
After months of delays, political maneuvering, and shameless partisan tactics masquerading as court proceedings, it’s finally “Game-on” in the race for the Montana Supreme Court. Back in May we told you about a lawsuit, filed by four delegates to the 1972 Montana Constitutional Convention, to have Lawrence VanDyke, a candidate for the Montana Supreme Court, removed from the ballot.
VanDyke was running against Supreme Court Justice Mike Wheat, a former Democrat Senator from Bozeman. All four of the plaintiffs were Democrats, as was Judge Mike Menahan. Are you starting to see a pattern? Judge Menahan agreed with the plaintiffs and removed VanDyke from the ballot on a technicality. The Constitution says that a candidate for the Supreme Court must have been admitted to the practice of law in Montana for five years, prior to the November election. The debate was over the definition of “admitted.”
VanDyke was admitted to the Bar in 2005, then went on inactive status while he practiced out of state from 2006 to 2013. He went back on active status in 2013 when he became Montana’s Solicitor General. The purpose of the eligibility requirement is to make sure that a candidate has enough experience to be an effective Justice. While out of state VanDyke, a Montana native and graduate of Harvard Law School, practiced appellate law in Washington D.C. and Dallas, Texas. He argued that he actually has far more appellate experience than most of the Justices currently serving on the Supreme Court. He also argued that he was admitted to the practice of law in Montana in 2005 and was never unadmitted, he just went on inactive status. Going active was simply a matter of paying some Bar Association dues and filing some paperwork.
Judge Menahan rejected that argument and in doing so effectively set himself up as a Kingmaker. Since this is a non-partisan race there was no way to replace VanDyke on the ballot, so Menahan in effect unilaterally appointed Mike Wheat to the Supreme Court. VanDyke appealed the decision to the Montana Supreme Court, where party politics once again became an issue. Chief Justice Mike McGrath, a former Democrat Attorney General, was forced to recuse himself because he had donated money to Mike Wheat’s campaign. Wheat also had to recuse himself for an obvious conflict of interest.
An expedited hearing was held, which strangely took almost two months to decide, but this week the Supreme Court announced that VanDyke was back on the ballot. Liberals across the state went crazy and left-leaning political commentators said they were shocked. In the end Justice Beth Baker, writing for the majority, wrote that although VanDyke was on inactive status, his admission was never conditional. He was never terminated, suspended, or subjected to any form of probation or other disciplinary action at any time. She said, in short, that although he was inactive he was never unadmitted and therefore met the eligibility requirements.
VanDyke, for his part, said that he was glad to be back on the ballot, but has a big deficit to make up in terms of fundraising. At last count, VanDyke’s cash on hand was $4,400 to Mike Wheat’s $68,000. VanDyke said that his fundraising hit a brick wall when Judge Menahan declared him ineligible, but he is ready to work hard and make up for lost time.
Montana Attorney General Tim Fox Upholds Marriage
In response to a complaint by four homosexual couples, Montana Attorney General Tim Fox said yesterday that the complaint should be dismissed and marriage should remain defined as a union between one man and one woman. The couples, who were being represented by the ACLU, claim the constitutional ban on same-sex marriage in Montana, which passed in 2004 by 67% of the voters, denies them equal protection under the law. Three of the couples were married in other states, while one wants to be married in Montana.
In his response, Fox denied several of the plaintiff’s claims that he said consisted of arguments or conclusions of law that don’t require a response. He also said that last summer’s ruling at the U.S Supreme Court in United States v. Windsor reaffirm that the definition and regulation of marriage is within the authority and realm of the separate states. He went on to say that Montana’s recognition of marriage as between one man and one woman does not constitute or impose an unconstitutional stigma or second-class citizenship on persons in same-sex relationships.
From our perspective, it’s nice to see an attorney general who is actually fighting to uphold the will of the people. Montana’s Marriage Amendment wasn’t a piece of law passed by narrow margin in the Montana Legislature. It was a constitutional amendment passed by an overwhelming margin in a direct vote of the people. Marriage between one man and one woman is critical for the health of the nation and the well being of children. The people get it, it’s too bad that a growing number of liberal judges don’t.Same-sex couples claim that they are in committed, loving relationships and just want the happiness and security that marriage brings, but government has never had a vested interest in the happiness of couples. The only reason it’s involved in marriage is for the sake of the children and the important role that well-raised children play in the long term health of the nation. Even in liberal California, the people voted to uphold marriage between men and women.
So where do we go from here? At this point, any decision rendered in this case will probably be moot because so many other cases are ahead of it in the pipeline. We already have cases teed up for the U.S. Supreme Court and this case hasn’t even gotten its first hearing. In the Ninth Circuit alone, Idaho already has a case before the Court of Appeals. This makes the ACLU of Montana a little late to the party, but they are doing it to make a point.
We expect a full-court press on all facets of the Homosexual Agenda when the Montana Legislature reconvenes in January. The possibilities include same-sex marriage, same-sex civil unions, same-sex civil benefits, sex education in schools that contains homosexual components, and inclusion of homosexuals, bisexuals, transvestites, and binary or gender fluid people in the Montana Human Rights Act. For the 99.9% of people who have never heard term “gender binary,” it means people who don’t identify with either sex, they float back and forth between the two on any given day. The Bible says that God created them male and female, and we at the Montana Family Foundation will continue to uphold God’s design for marriage and for the family. It’s a battle we feel is worth fighting.