Legislators pave way to remove defunct law criminalizing gay sex

Montana’s House voted 65-34 Wednesday, April 10 to remove a defunct law criminalizing gay sex from books, paving the way to strike language that has historically included “deviate sexual conduct” in the legal definition of “sexual abuse.”

The measure, SB 107, also removes language including “sexual contact or sexual intercourse between two persons of the same sex” from the state’s definition of “Deviate sexual relations.” It passed the Montana Senate on a 38-11 vote Feb. 20, and will next head to Gov. Steve Bullock’s desk.

The language was ruled unconstitutional by the Montana Supreme Court in 1997. Until this year, however, Montana Republicans maintained a plank in their party platform that sought “to keep homosexual acts illegal.”

Rep. Duane Ankney, R-Colstrip, who said his daughter is a lesbian, was among those who spoke for the measure. “I know the power of prayer, and I know the power of God,” he said in his testimony. “And I don’t think God thinks any less of my daughter than he does of any one of you here.”

“This law is an embarrassment on the people of Montana and it should go away as quietly as it can,” he added, quoted in a Great Falls Tribune reporter’s tweet.

Some Republicans resisted the measure on the grounds that their religious beliefs consider homosexuality a sin. “I don’t think that homosexual sex is necessarily not deviant,” commented Rep. Dave Hagstrom, R-Billings. “Sex is primarily purposed to produce people.”

Rep. Bryce Bennett, an openly gay Democrat from Missoula, also spoke for the measure, arguing that, despite the 1997 court ruling, the existing language “labels gay and lesbian Montanans felons under our law.”

“Under this law, I am considered a felon,” he added. “In fact, this law puts me in the same category as people who rape animals.”