HELENA — Gay rights advocates said Monday that they hope the Legislature will finally repeal an obsolete state law that criminalized gay sex in Montana before it was struck down by the courts in the 1990s.
The Montana Supreme Court in 1997 ruled as unconstitutional the portion of the deviate-sexual-relations law that includes "sexual contact or sexual intercourse between two persons of the same sex" in the definition that also includes bestiality.
Senate Bill 107, carried by Sen. Tom Facey, would remove it from state code. The Missoula Democrat said the time has come to strike a law that is unenforceable and offensive.
"Words do matter. I hope you can pass this bill to get the unconstitutional words out of our code," Facey said.
Groups opposed to the law have tried for years to get the Legislature to formally strike language they argue is hurtful. Two years ago, a similar proposal to repeal the law cleared the Senate only to die in the more conservative House.
But since then, the Montana Republican Party has removed from its platform the position that it seeks to make homosexual acts illegal. The party remains opposed to gay marriage.
Freshman Republican state Rep. Nicholas Schwaderer, of Superior, said he is co-sponsoring the measure because it "respects the rights of Montanans."
Opposition was muted compared with arguments in past legislative sessions over the matter. Only two stood to oppose the bill.
Dallas Erickson, with Montana Citizens for Decency Through Law, argued that the courts got the decision wrong. He said his group opposes the gay "lifestyle" and argued that such an anti-sodomy law has been on the books since statehood because it reflects the values of the state's residents.
More than a dozen advocates told the Judiciary Committee that it is time to remove the language.
"Please, make our laws match our constitution," said Linda Gryczan, the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit that led to the Montana Supreme Court's decision to rule the law unconstitutional.
The Montana County Attorneys Association also supported the bill.
The committee did not take any immediate action on the measure.
Jamee Greer, with the Montana Human Rights Association, noted that it has also been 10 years since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down as unconstitutional another state's similar law.
"We are hopeful they are going to do the right thing this time," Greer said.