Law banning gay sex in Montana removed from the books

Linda Gryczon, the lead plaintiff in the MT Supreme Court case throwing out the state's ban on homosexual sex, celebrates the law's official removal Thursday

Linda Gryczan, the lead plaintiff in the MT Supreme Court case throwing out the state’s ban on homosexual sex, celebrates the law’s official removal Thursday

“I am not going to speak too long,” Governor Steve Bullock told the cheering crowd packed into the rotunda of the state capitol building. “Because frankly, the longer I talk the longer this unconstitutional and embarrassing law continues to stay on our books.”
Bullock shortly thereafter signed Senate Bill 107, which officially removes a law criminalizing homosexual sex in the state. The Montana Supreme Court struck down the law 15 years ago, but state legislators kept the law on the books.
Helena lobbyist Linda Gryczan filed the original suit which led to the Supreme Court nullifying the ban. A gay woman, Gryczan said the Thursday ceremony to remove the defunct law meant a lot more than if the legislature would have dropped it shortly after the 1997 Supreme Court decision.
“Because (that) would have followed the normal course of what you’d expect, unconstitutional law, you take it off the books…it makes sense,” Gryczan said. “Unfortunately to a lot of people, prejudice got in the way and we had to fight that prejudice.”
A bill to toss the law failed every other attempt before the Montana Legislature before this year. This time, the Senate voted 38-11 to pass the law. The House passed it with a 64-35 vote.
Representative Jerry Bennett (R-Libby)

Representative Jerry Bennett (R-Libby)

Representative Jerry Bennett (R-Libby) was one of the 35 Republicans who opposed the bill. He says he’s against the bill on religious grounds, but it was not a hateful vote. “God says we’re to love one another…but I still have to remain true to my beliefs in God and what he asks of us and so balancing that is a very difficult thing at times.”

The final debate on the House floor was largely between Republicans, with many arguing to remove the law to recognize individual rights and privacy. Arguably the most passionate testimony in favor of SB107 came from Representative Duane Ankney (R-Colstrip), who has a gay daughter.
To say she is any less of a person, or she is a criminal for her lifestyle, really upsets me. And for anybody that would feel that way—upsets me,” Ankney said, pointing at the other lawmakers. “I don’t think God thinks any less of my daughter than he does of any one of you in here.”
Montana Human Rights Network Lobbyist Jamee Greer says the passage of SB107 is “the first explicit victory for the LGBT community through the (Montana) legislature in history.” He believes it may be a watershed moment for gay rights in the state.
Governor Steve Bullock signs Senate Bill 107 with Rep. Bryce Bennet (left) and Senator Tom Facey looking on.

Governor Steve Bullock signs Senate Bill 107 with Rep. Bryce Bennet (left) and Senator Tom Facey looking on.

Bill to de-criminalize homosexual sex in House Judiciary Committee after passing Senate

Senator Tom Facey (D-Missoula)

Senator Tom Facey (D-Missoula)

A bill to remove a state law criminalizing homosexual sex continues its path through the legislature.

The law in question was declared unconstitutional by the Montana Supreme Court in 1997, but still remains on the books. A bill to remove that obsolete language has come before lawmakers multiple times before, unsuccessfully.

The bill this session (SB107) passed the Senate 38 to 11 and is now before the House Judiciary Committee. Sponsor, Missoula Democratic Senator Tom Facey says it’s practical to remove a law declared unconstitutional.

 “Law enforcement can be confused with this statute on our books. Anybody that can be charged with this crime, the case would be thrown out in the first court it came to,” Facey said during the bill’s Friday hearing.  Supporters of Facey’s bill say the law only still exists on the books to be hurtful to homosexuals.

Opponent Dallas Erickson, representing a group called Montana Citizens for Decency Through Law, agrees the Supreme Court has ruled on consenting homosexual adults, and accepts removing language criminalizing them from law. But he wants to keep the rest of the law intact concerning homosexual rape.

“As a former law enforcement officer, I saw the harm in deviant sexual rape of children of harm and adults,” he said. “There is harm that does not exist necessarily with other forms of rape.”

Supporters of the bill say rape is addressed sufficiently in other parts of state law, and discriminating upon the gender of someone accused of rape is unconstitutional.

The bill to remove the law now waits for action from the House Judiciary Committee.