- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 13, 2014

BOZEMAN, Mont. (AP) - Bozeman city leaders have given their initial backing to a measure that would outlaw discrimination in the workplace, housing and public accommodations based on a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

The city commission voted 4-0 Monday for the ordinance meant to protect gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people from discrimination. The proposal must pass a final vote scheduled for June 2 before it takes effect.

Commissioner Chris Mehl said he is convinced that discrimination against gays and lesbians exists in Bozeman and there is a need for the measure.

“We are passing an ordinance today in that direction, and we ask you to come with us as members of our community,” Mehl said.

Commissioners exempted religious schools and corporations from the measure’s hiring requirements. They also exempted goods or facilities provided for a service that is primarily religious in nature from the public accommodations requirements.

Several people who spoke against the measure cited changes proposed by RightNow Technologies founder Greg Gianforte. His suggestions included an exemption for businesses that say providing services to gays and lesbians - such as wedding venues and planners - would violate their religious beliefs. That idea was not adopted.

Jamee Greer of the Montana Human Rights Network called the measure a “strong document.”

“This is something that wasn’t rushed and something the community has been working on for years now,” Greer said.

Missoula adopted a nondiscrimination ordinance in 2010, and Helena passed one in 2012.

Billings city commissioners on Monday heard from people about plans for a similar measure there, even though one has not yet been introduced.

“This is a matter of public safety, and it’s your responsibility to make sure we protect them in a timely fashion,” resident Liz Welch told the Billings council.

Wicks Lane Baptist Church pastor Paul Ostrander, an opponent of a Billings measure, said if one is passed, “I must obey God rather than man.”

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