On February 19, the Illinois State Senate voted to legalize gay marriage. The next day, the Montana Senate voted to decriminalize homosexual intercourse through Senate Bill 107. It is worth noting the bill now faces heavier opposition — the House has demonstrated a more conservative slant during this session.
SB 107 is not the only LGBT rights legislation facing the legislature this session. House Bill 481, which unfortunately was tabled by the House Judiciary Committee during the same week, sought to extend Montana’s anti-discrimination laws to protect gender identity, expression and sexual orientation.
Until SB 107 passes the House, Montana will remain one of the 14 states that still holds sodomy laws on the books. The 2003 Supreme Court case Lawrence v. Texas ruled such laws were unconstitutional and illegal to enforce. A fun fact: The Montana GOP’s party platform on their website still included outlawing sodomy as a priority in 2012, though it was recently removed.
With laws like that still on the books, it’s easy to write Montana off as just another hick-a** Red State. Consider: Montana hasn’t gone Blue in a Presidential election since 1992 and tried to implement a “cowboy code” as state law in the 2011 Legislative session. Naturally, this hasn’t gone unnoticed by people in other states: An article by the magazine Mother Jones about SB 107 boasted a comment section rife with “Brokeback Mountain” and sheep-with-its-head-stuck-in-the-fence jokes.
However, a closer look tells another story. An active liberal swing is growing — Montana has been presided over by a Democratic governor for the last 8 years and elected another in the 2012 election. Montanans re-elected Democrat Jon Tester to the U.S. Senate in the same election, beating out popular Republican Congressman Denny “Sue the Billings Fire Department” Rehberg. In addition, while the Republican majority in the Legislature wasn’t extinguished in the election, Democrats did pick up more seats.
The tides are clearly shifting, and this puts Montana in a very ideal position. To the average person, it probably doesn’t come as a huge surprise that true-blue states such as Washington and Massachusetts would legalize gay marriage. Every step forward for LGBT rights deserves celebration. But in areas regarded as more conservative, taking steps forward can provide a fresh ray of hope for the movement. If Montanan liberals (and socially-left libertarians for that matter) continue to gain power in the state, we can keep the ball rolling toward equality in the Big Sky. In this traditionally red state, LGBT rights victories can provide hope to LGBT persons and advocates alike in socially conservative areas all across the United States.
After all, Montana was founded on the mission to, as our state constitution declares, “improve the quality of life, equality of opportunity and to secure the blessings of liberty for this and future
generations.” This is a declaration that rings equally true for Americans in any state. In Montana we can choose to lead in equality or choose to go down on the wrong side of history. Our choice.