Montana decriminalises gay sex

2013-04-19 12:19

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Montana - An obsolete law deeming gay sex as deviant - akin to bestiality - was stricken from the law in the western state of Montana on Thursday, prompting gay rights activists to say they hope that full legal equality may be close at hand.

When Montana Governor Steve Bullock signed Senate Bill 107 decriminalising gay sex, cheers erupted in the Capitol's Rotunda. It had been 16 years after the state Supreme Court ruled the law unconstitutional and 24 years after gay rights activists began their fight to take government out of the bedroom.

"I am not going to speak too long because, frankly, the longer I talk, the longer this embarrassing and unconstitutional law stays on the books," Bullock said.

The victory, though a powerful one for the gay community in Montana, is highly symbolic with no tangible benefits aside from striking the obsolete law condemning gay sex from Montana code. The outdated code has not been used to prosecute individuals for years. And previous efforts to offer gays and lesbians protection under the law, including a push to prohibit civil discrimination, have been thwarted by a Republican-controlled Legislature.

Republican Representative Jerry Bennett said he holds no ill will toward gay people, but he and other Republicans opposed the legislation and similar efforts along religious lines. He added that there is a bi-partisan movement to "protect the family," defining marriage as between a man and a woman, and gay rights efforts could have "long-term ramifications".

"This isn't over," he said. "We will see a continual push for recognition of unions ... for health insurance. All kinds of things will come out of this."

Libertarian values

The decriminalisation bill passed the House of Representatives on a 64-35 vote, and it cleared the Senate 38-11. In both cases, Republicans joined minority Democrats to advance the legislation, as gay rights activists hailed their success as a sea change within the Republican party.

"In the past we've seen members of the Republican caucus say, I can't stand with you because it will cost me my re-election," said activist Jamee Greer, a lobbyist with the Montana Human Rights Network.

Gay rights activists are hopeful the bi-partisan effort is a catalyst for further change. They say that gay equality aligns itself with the fundamental libertarian values of privacy and a live-and-let live attitude pervasive in Montana - especially among Republicans who subscribe to a strong Libertarian undercurrent.

This year an effort to prohibit discrimination against gays and lesbians in housing and employment was tabled by a conservative House committee. That plan and another to legalize gay marriage remain priorities in future sessions, Greer said.

"As more and more LGBT people come out to their friends and their neighbours," Greer said, "it's going to be harder to discriminate against them."

Read more on:    us  |  gay rights

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