Moral Low Ground

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Montana Decriminalizes Gay Sex

gay-MontanaLGBT rights advocates gathered in Montana’s capitol cheered after the state’s governor signed into law a bill that formally decriminalizes homosexual sex.

Reuters reports that Gov. Steve Bullock, a Democrat, signed the measure at the state capitol in Helena on Thursday. Previously, gay sex was technically a felony in Montana despite a 1997 state supreme court ruling and a similar decision by the US Supreme Court that struck down sodomy statutes as unconstitutional.

“I am not going to speak too long,” Bullock said during the heavily-attended signing ceremony. “Because frankly, the longer I talk, the longer this unconstitutional and embarrassing law stays on the books.”

Although Thursday’s action was largely symbolic, gay rights activists hailed the move as an important step forward towards equality for LGBT Montanans.

Jamee Greer, an organizer with the Montana Human Rights Network, called the bill’s passage “the first explicit victory for the LGBT community through the (state) legislature in history.”

State Rep. Duane Ankney, a Republican whose daughter is a lesbian, slammed the prior criminalization of LGBT Montanans.

“To say she is any less of a person, or she is a criminal for her lifestyle, really upsets me,” Ankney said of his daughter.

Bullock’s signing ceremony was the culmination of a long, and sometimes unsuccessful, journey towards decriminalizing gay sex. Dozens of Republican lawmakers, mostly citing religious reasons, attempted to thwart efforts to repeal the discriminatory ban.

“There is an enormous biblical principle here. There is a truth,” Rep. Krayton Kerns (R-Laurel) said in explaining his opposition to decriminalization. “I know that public opinion may be swaying with the time but the truth does not sway and so it was default to scripture.”

The Bible states that “if a man… lie with mankind, as he lie with woman, both of them have committed an abomination– they shall surely be put to death.” (Leviticus 20:13)

“If we abandon our moral compass, we will lose our country,” Kerns warned.

But the decriminalization passed the state House by a vote of 64-35 and the Senate by a vote of 38-11.

Gay sex remains illegal in Kansas, where it is technically punishable by up to six months in prison and up to a $1,000 fine; Oklahoma, where offenders technically face up to 10 years behind bars and Texas, where state Sen. Jose Rodriguez (D-El Paso) is leading efforts to have the obsolete law stricken from the books.

Despite such laws still being on the books, the US Supreme Court, in the 2003 Lawrence v. Texas decision, ruled that Texas’ sodomy law was unconstitutional under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

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