Posted: Apr 18, 2013 6:47 PM by Marnee Banks (Helena)
Updated: Apr 18, 2013 6:55 PM
HELENA - As of Thursday, engaging in homosexual acts is officially no longer a crime in Montana.
The Capitol rotunda was packed with people for the signing of Senate Bill 107, which strikes language from Montana code which says that people who engage in homosexual acts have committed a felony and can be punished with 10 years in prison and a $50,000 fine.
The bill was hailed by civil rights activists, lawmakers, and gay couples as historic.
They say that words matter, and it sends a message to gays all over Montana that they are not criminals, but instead people with rights.
Linda Gryczan, a civil rights activist, said, "So through all this struggle we have said, 'Not tonight, dear, it's a felony.' Well now we are going to say, 'Tonight, dear, it's not a felony!"
During the signing ceremony, Governor Steve Bullock (D-MT) said, "I am not going to speak too long, because frankly the longer I talk the longer this unconstitutional and embarrassing law stays on our books."
Bullock noted, "If two people love each other, they deserve the respect that we would offer any other couple, and equal rights under our law."
Jamee Greer of the Montana Human Rights Network has been working on this issue and says in 30 to 40 years the next generation will look back on this time and say they can't believe this was even a debate: "It's changing and it's changing quickly because of openness, people are coming out to their families, and they are coming out to their friends and neighbors, the people who sit beside them in church. It's harder to discriminate against somebody when you have a relationship with them."
The sponsor of the bill, MT State Senator Tom Facey (D-Missoula) has carried the legislation several sessions in a row trying to finagle enough votes in the House for it to pass.
This time around, with the help of some prominent Republican Representatives, the bill was signed into law.
Facey said, "We've got work ahead of us, work that may never be done. But for today and now, let's step back and celebrate."
Bozeman Representatives Kerry White and Gordon Vance did not want to comment and Kelly Flynn and Ted Washburn could not be reached.
Bozeman resident Greg Smith, who serves as the director of AIDS Outreach Montana, attended the signing of the bill and hoped to speak with Bozeman's Republican representatives about their decision to vote against the bill.
Smith said, "I would like to invite them to my home, to have them come to dinner and see how ordinary and even sometimes how boring our lives are. They're not irreverent, they're not irrelevant...we are good people who are interested in making this a safe place for everybody."
MT State Rep. Duane Ankney (R-Colstrip), one of the Republican supporters of the bill, was cheered by members of the crowd during the event; Ankney testified in support of the bill several days ago, stating that his four sons would protect his daughter's right to live her life the way she wanted, and she is not a criminal for her lifestyle.