MT House panel hears bill on gay sex

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — A House panel heard a measure Friday that would remove an obsolete Montana law that criminalizes gay sex by labeling it a deviate sexual behavior on par with bestiality.

Senate Bill 107 seeks to remove that language from the existing statutes, reflecting a 1997 Montana Supreme Court ruling that said the law prohibiting gay sex is unconstitutional.

The measure to strike the law has already passed the state Senate in a 39-11 vote, but now is before the House Judiciary Committee — the same panel that killed a similar bill in 2011.

Bill sponsor Sen. Tom Facey, D-Missoula, said cutting the language would grant clarity to law enforcement officials in their attempt to both enforce the law and follow the court’s ruling.
Sen. Christine Kaufmann, D-Helena, who spoke in support of the bill on the Senate floor and in the committee, called the existing statute unconstitutional and obsolete.

The words “are only there to remind people that we are indeed second-class citizens, that we are unworthy, that Montana is not a welcoming place for us, that we are despised,” said Kaufmann, who is a lesbian.

But opponents argued the measure goes against Montana’s values, and say the Montana Supreme Court disregarded those values in its ruling in the 1997 case Gryczen v. Montana.

Montana Family Foundation President Jeff Laszloffy said the measure is not a simple “cleanup bill” but a vital component to one of the greatest moral debates of the last 20 years.

Lawmakers should allow the debate to be “settled outside the walls of the Capitol,” he said.
“We haven’t come to grips with who we want to be as a people,” he said.

Other opponents echoed Laszloffy’s concerns. Dallas Erickson of the group Montana Citizens for Decency Through Law said he “dreads that we are slouching toward Gomorrah.”

Linda Gryczen, the plaintiff from the case that struck down the law as unconstitutional, said she has been testifying about this issue since 1989. She said the existing statute is a violation of privacy and echoed many proponents’ beliefs the government shouldn’t interfere with the activities of consenting adults in the bedroom.

Opponents also said they were concerned about being able to prosecute criminals in child molestation cases.
Montana County Attorney Association Representative Mark Murphy said cases of child molestation are prosecuted under Jessica’s Law — a statute that dictates strict penalties for perpetrators — and passage of SB107 bill wouldn’t affect the prosecution of child molesters.

The committee didn’t take immediate action on the bill.

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