Montana lawmakers pass bill decriminalizing gay sex

Republican Rep. Duane Ankney, left, of Colstrip, Mont., speaks on the House floor Tuesday April 9, 2013, in Helena, Mont. Ankney joined the chamber in voting to repeal an obsolete law that criminalizes gay sex. AP Photo/Matt Gouras

HELENA, Mont. The woman who led the court battle to strike down a Montana law that made gay sex illegal knows that having the unconstitutional law struck from the books is a symbolic act.

All the same, Linda Gryczan began to cry when the state House finally brought the issue to the floor on Monday.

"I was actually surprised. Knowing it's a symbolic victory, I didn't realize how important it was going to be until it was there," Gryczan told the Great Falls Tribune in a story published Wednesday.

Senate Bill 107, the measure that strikes from the state code the obsolete language criminalizing gay sex as "deviate sexual conduct," passed its final legislative hurdle Wednesday with a 65-34 vote in the House.

The Senate approved the bill earlier in the session, but it took the vote of more than 60 representatives to remove the measure from the House committee where it was stuck to hold floor votes on Tuesday and Wednesday.

CBS affiliate KXLH reports Republican Rep. Duane Ankney told the chamber that his daughter is a lesbian and she has a right to live her life in the way she chooses.

"To say she is any less of a person or she is a criminal for her lifestyle really upsets me," Ankney said choking back tears. (Watch video below).

The bill now goes to Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock. The governor's office declined to say Wednesday whether Bullock plans to sign the bill.

Gryczan was the lead plaintiff in a 1995 lawsuit that led to the unanimous 1997 Montana Supreme Court decision that ruled the law unconstitutional.

But legislators resisted removing the obsolete language until now, as gay and lesbian advocates protested its continued presence was a reminder they were once considered felons.

"It's been a burr under my saddle for all these years that I've just learned to ignore," Gryczan said on Tuesday.

She and other advocates hailed the passage of the bill as a landmark victory for gay and lesbian rights in Montana.

Jamee Greer, a human rights activist and a lobbyist for the Montana Human Rights Network, said Republican legislators are coming around to recognizing that gays and lesbians deserve to be treated as equals.

"The fact is language matters, and those words matter. It's a relief to know this is moving forward," Greer said.

As more people make their sexual orientation known their friends, families and neighbors, it makes it easier for politicians from both parties to stand in favor of gay-rights issues, Greer said.

Helena City Commissioner Katherine Haque-Hausrath, who won her 2010 election campaigning on the passage of a nondiscrimination ordinance in Helena, said the Montana Legislature is now "on the right side of history" when it comes to lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people.

"I think this is just part of the growing momentum toward equality for LGBT people," Haque-Hausrath said.

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