Thursday, April 18, 2013

Montana Governor Steve Bullock Signs Bill Striking Down Law Criminalizing Gay Sex; “Former Felons Ball” Planned To Celebrate Passage Of SB107

In Helena, Montana, a crowd gathered in the Capitol rotunda as Gov. Steve Bullock signed a bill that strikes an obsolete state law still on the books that makes gay sex a crime. “I am not going to speak too long because frankly the longer I talk, the longer this unconstitutional and embarrassing law stays in our books,” Bullock said. The Billings Gazette reports that as Bullock signed different copies of the bill, the audience in the rotunda and those watching from the gallery burst out in loud cheers. Senate Bill 107, by Sen. Tom Facey (D-Missoula) removed from state law books a statute that the Montana Supreme Court unanimously struck down as unconstitutional in 1997. Yet the illegal law remained on the books for 16 years because only the Legislature can pass a law to repeal a law. For two decades, legislators had been trying to repeal the law, which had lumped gay sex in with “sexual intercourse with an animal” as criminal deviate sexual conduct. People convicted of the crime could have faced a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a $50,000 fine, although no one had been prosecuted for the crime for years. In the past, most Republicans usually united to oppose efforts by Democrats to repeal the law, but in this session, enough GOP lawmakers joined Democrats to pass SB107. The final votes were 38-11 in the Senate and 64-35 in the House, with Republicans controlling both chambers. As the law was stricken, it was a day of celebration at the Capitol for lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgender people and people supporting them. The “Former Felons Ball” was planned for later Thursday night in Helena. The first speaker was Linda Gryczan of Helena, the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit that struck down the law. She praised some past legislators who tried to repeal the law before the lawsuit was filed, including Vivian Brooke and Diane Sands of Missoula and John Bohlinger of Billings, who went on to serve as lieutenant governor. She also praised current Sens. Christine Kaufmann of Helena and Facey. “So we tried that for a few years and realized it wasn’t going so well, so we sued,” Gryczan said. She and five other people filed the lawsuit. Gryczan applauded the people who drove across the state but were allowed to testify for only a one minute before hostile legislative committees. Others “came out” to their friends, families, co-workers and fellow lawmakers, she said, while a number of people raised money and made many calls to the Capitol. “By those small actions, repeated year after year, day after day, you have created the cultural change that made this change possible,” Gryczan said. She also praised Republican Reps. Steve Gibson (R-East Helena) and Rep. Duane Ankney (R-Colstrip) for their speeches on the floor in the House. White tee shirts were distributed Thursday with a photo of Ankney, the retired coal miner with droopy moustache who spoke out against the law in a speech on the House floor last week. Ankney said the law made his own daughter a criminal, and he called the law an embarrassment that needs to go away. Facey said the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community can cherish and celebrate the passage of SB107. He added that this group “has challenges ahead of it in terms of protection and rights” and urged people to continue to fight for them. Afterward, Jamee Greer, a lobbyist for the Montana Human Rights Network, called it a day for LGBT people and for all Montanans to celebrate. “It’s one brick in the road to full equality for all LGBT Montanans,” Greer said.

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