HELENA – A Kansas church that protests against gays is planning a trip here next month in response to the state Supreme Court’s ruling that same-sex partners of University System employees are entitled to health benefits.
The Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kan., sent faxes this week stating that its members will protest at a half-dozen “pro-gay” churches in Helena on Feb. 13, and outside the state Supreme Court building in Helena and at the University of Montana in Missoula on Feb. 14.
“We need to be sure the people of Helena call to mind that there is a God, a standard, and a day of judgment, and it’s not OK to be gay,” Shirley Phelps-Roper, a member of the Westboro church, told the Independent Record newspaper of Helena.
In a lawsuit brought by lesbian employees of the University of Montana, the Supreme Court last week struck down the university’s policy of denying benefits to employees’ gay or lesbian partners.
The court’s 4-3 ruling said the policy violates the Montana Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection because unmarried heterosexual partners could get the benefit by signing a common-law marriage affidavit, while unmarried gay partners can’t.
The six Helena churches targeted by the group are the Calvary Baptist, St. Helena’s Cathedral, St. Peter’s Episcopal, St. Paul’s United Methodist, Our Redeemer’s Lutheran and First Presbyterian.
Robyn Morrison, of St. Paul’s United Methodist, said church officials there would likely meet with representatives of the other targeted churches to respond to the Kansas church group’s plans.
Monsignor Kevin O’Neill of the Helena Roman Catholic Diocese, called the Westboro group’s statements hateful.
“Theirs is a narrow, bigoted mind, and you have to pray for them,” he said.
He noted that most of the targeted churches in Helena are within a block of each other, saying the Westboro group’s “zeal has a certain convenience to it.”
The Westboro church is led by Fred Phelps, the father of Phelps-Roper. Church members are known for protesting against gays around the country.