Thursday, April 18, 2013

Bullock signs bill decriminalizing gays and lesbians

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Supporters of gay and lesbian equality packed the Capitol rotunda Thursday to celebrate Gov. Steve Bullock's signing of a measure that makes being gay legal in Montana.

The Montana Supreme Court in 1997 struck down the arcane state law that made it illegal to have gay sex, but the law remained on the books until Bullock signed Senate Bill 107.

"I'm not going to speak too long because frankly, the longer I talk the longer this unconstitutional and embarrassing law continues to stay on the books," Bullock said.

Linda Gryczan is a LGBT activist and the woman at the center of the 1995 lawsuit that lead to the Supreme Court ruling. Gryczan thanks lawmakers, lobbyists, activists and Montana citizens who have fought for more than two decades to strike the law from the books.

"Some of you interrupted bad jokes and insults, and you have done that on the floor of the House, you've done that on the floor of the Senate, you've done that in committee and you've done that in your communities," Gryczan said. "Those small actions, repeated year after year, day after day, made this change possible."

The crowd reserved their loudest cheers for Republican Reps. Duane Ankney, of Colstrip, and Steve Gibson, of East Helena. Gibson and Ankney's impassioned speeches in favor of SB107 on the House floor last week inspired the LGBT community and their supporters.

Ankney's said during his speech that his four sons "would give their last breath" to protect his daughter's 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 in a floor speech. "This bill is an embarrassment, the law is an embarrassment on the good people of Montana. It should go away, and it should go away as quietly as it can."

The Capitol rotunda was anything but quite on Thursday as chants of "Ankney! Ankney!" filled the dome. Supporters of SB107 handed out T-shirts featuring a black and white photo of Ankney.

"I bet you've never been cheered by so many Democrats," Gryczan said.

"It's a little scary," Ankney replied.

Sen. Tom Facey, D-Missoula, SB107's sponsor, has carried similar bills in past sessions. Facey choked back tears as he thanked those who stood before him.

"I stood on the shoulders of proponents who came from across Montana to testify in committees," Facey said. "They told their stories with heart and truth and courage."

"Our predecessors stood together for equal rights. Our children cannot even grasp why equal rights would be denied," Bullock said. "For our predecessors, and our successors, now it's up to us to stand up."

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