Last edited: December 31, 2004

House to Reconsider Anti-Gays Law

Billings Gazette, February 17, 1999
Box 36300, Billings, MT 59107
Fax: 406-657-1208

By Kathleen Mclaughlin, Gazette State Bureau

HELENA – After emotional speeches from several Democrats, the state House of Representatives on Monday agreed to take a second look at removing an unconstitutional state law banning adults from having homosexual contact.

On a 50-46 vote, the House voted to reconsider its action Saturday in striking the state’s anti-gay-sex law from the books.

Most gays and lesbians are typical, law-abiding citizens, Rep. Mary Anne Guggenheim, D-Helena, the only openly gay member of the Montana Legislature, told her fellow House members.

"Who are we?" she asked, adding some 30,000 gay people live in Montana, in all walks of life. "We’re your children, we’re your siblings, we’re your constituents."

"I’d like you to change this one so we can follow all the laws," said Guggenheim.

House Bill 449, by Rep. Joan Hurdle, D-Billings, removes from the state criminal code a section overturned by the state Supreme Court in 1997 that makes homosexual contact a felony. While the law can no longer be enforced, supporters of HB449 say its very being sends a deliberate message that Montana is anti-gay. On Saturday, the bill failed the House on 50 to 50 tie vote.

Only Democrats spoke during the floor debate Monday to reconsider the bill. House Minority Leader Emily Swanson, D-Bozeman, told other representatives that the law has affected her own family. Swanson said her sister, who is a lesbian, lives in another state.

"This vote that we took on a meaningless bill . . . tells me and tells my sister that she’s not welcome here," said Swanson.

Others chided those opposed to the measure because they didn’t believe their voters would accept a decision that appeared to support gays.

"I think you’ve underestimated your constituents," said Rep. Carol Williams, D-Missoula.

The 50 votes in favor of looking again at the bill included 12 Republicans and 38 Democrats. All 46 votes against the action came from the GOP. Four legislators were absent from the vote, although one of them, Rep. Bruce Simon, R-Billings, said he voted "no" and his was not recorded.

The measure moves back to the House floor for debate again.

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