Last edited: December 31, 2004

Martz to Gays: No Special Support

Billings Gazette, April 19, 2002

By Ericka Schenck Smith Gazette State Bureau

HELENAóGov. Judy Martz on Thursday refused to commit her support to increasing legal protections for gays and lesbians and compared anti-gay violence to tree-spiking by environmentalists who want to halt logging projects.

"Is it my obligation to bring forward these things, the issues, and support them? Probably not," Martz said in a meeting with gay and lesbian rights advocates. "But we are a more accessible governor than most, and I am interested in what happens to the people in this state, and I do care about the things, the issues where hurtful things have happened."

Democratic Rep. Christine Kaufmann, of Helena, the only openly gay member of the current Legislature, asked for the meeting with Martz to talk about including protections for sexual orientation in the stateís hate crimes and human rights laws. Kaufmann asked the Republican governor to support bills to change those laws in the 2003 session.

"The added element in these hate crimes is that an entire group of people is really terrorized by the act because the perpetrator means to send a message to the entire group, not just the people who are victims," Kaufmann said.

"I go back to the timber people," Martz responded. "Same thing. When they spike trees, itís to scare the whole industry. So I agree with you; it is perpetrated to scare the whole group, but there are groups out there that get scared ... and itís not right in any case. I donít care what the case is. It is not right."

Similar bills to those Kaufmann proposes were tabled in committee by the 2001 Legislature. The Legislature also denied a bill repealing the state law making consensual sex between adults of the same gender illegal. The Montana Supreme Court declared the law unconstitutional in 1997, but legislators have refused to take it off the books.

"We would like for you to consider those bills, whether or not you can support it," Kaufmann told the governor. "I know that people think itís politically difficult to do something that appears to favor a group of people thatís generally despised or disliked in the culture."

"If you can get it through the Legislature, Iíll take a look at it," Martz said. She added that she would give the bills Kaufmann proposed the same consideration she would give any other legislation.

"I can tell you plainly that I wonít come out in support or against it prior to it going through the legislative session," Martz said. "I have learned well not to do that because (bills) change daily."

Kaufmann was joined by Karl Olson, executive director of PRIDE!, and Betty Kijewski, of Helena, an organizer for the Montana Human Rights Network and mother of a gay son.

Kijewski said she is frustrated by the state governmentís indifference to gay issues and the way that indifference trickles down to children.

"I personally have many youths come to me with their frustrated stories as gay youth of daily, constant harassment and violence that happens against them," Kijewski said.

Olson said expanding the hate crimes law would help law enforcement track crimes in which people are targeted for their sexual orientation.

"One of the things that we find when we go to the Legislature, we are told anti-gay hate crimes donít happen in Montana," Olson said. "Well, thereís no one keeping those records. ... And weíve heard from law enforcement people who have asked in the Legislature for it to be included to allow them to do their work."

Kaufmann said that she thought all violence is wrong, but said that there is something even more malicious about a hate crime, and Montanans deserve protection against being targeted for their sexuality.

It has been about 21/2 months since the home of a lesbian couple in Missoula was burned in an arson fire. The fire happened days after the women, one a professor at the University of Montana, announced they had filed suit against the state for not providing equal benefits to gay and lesbian University System employees. Police do not have a suspect, but County Attorney Fred Van Valkenberg has said investigators presume the couple was not involved.

Had sexual orientation been included in the Montana human rights laws, the Missoula coupleís lawsuit would have been unnecessary, Kaufman said.

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