Last edited: December 31, 2004

Montana Sodomy Reform Hearing

PlanetOut News, January 30, 2001

Montana’s "deviate sexual conduct" law against homosexual acts was made unenforceable when the Montana Supreme Court unanimously ruled it unconstitutional in 1997, but it remains on the books as a felony punishable by up to ten years in prison and a fine up to $50,000 — and both its opponents and its supporters agree it still has meaningful social impact. In fact, for the first time ever a "family impact statement" (as provided for in a law passed two years ago) was requested by Representative Bill Thomas (R-Hobson) as the Montana House Judiciary Committee heard testimony January 29 on Representative Tom Facey’s (D-Missoula) HB 323 to reform the deviate sexual conduct law.

Bozeman gay Jeremy Stockstad described his personal experience of how his former wife was able to use the law to limit his visitation with their children. Among those joining his call for reform was Linda Gryczan, who was one of the plaintiffs in the Montana Supreme Court case; the head of the gay and lesbian civil rights group PRIDE; the American Civil Liberties Union of Montana and the Montana Human Rights Network; and the Montana Attorney General’s office, whose representative said that it’s confusing to police and prosecutors and very rare to keep a law on the books once it’s been overturned.

Representative Verdell Jackson (R-Kalispell), who did not hesitate to express his personal discomfort around gays, held up a copy of the children’s book Daddy’s Roommate and declared that the sodomy law had helped to keep it out of schools, and added, "I also think it protects me from propositions on the street." Christian Coalition of Montana executive director Julie Millam said, "We believe this [1997 Montana Supreme Court] ruling is in error and will ultimately be overturned for its capriciousness," while also warning that its repeal could open schools to homosexual sex education and the spread of disease. Others objecting to reform on the basis of morality and religion included the group Montana Citizens for Decency Through Law.

The executive branch will develop the "family impact statement," which is prescribed to include not only any detrimental or strengthening effects on families and an estimate of the number of families affected, but also "whether the bill sends a message to parents, children, or both, regarding personal responsibility and the norms of society." The Judiciary Committee took no action, although several Democrats made clear their support for reform and several Republicans their opposition.

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