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Montana Gov. signs bill to officially decriminalize sodomy

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By Jacob Combs

Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, a Democrat, signed a bill into law yesterday that officially decriminalizes gay sex more than 16 years after the Montana Supreme Court ruled the state’s sodomy ban unconstitutional.

“I am not going to speak too long,” Bullock said to a standing-room only crowd in the state rotunda during a signing ceremony for the bill, “because frankly, the longer I talk, the longer this unconstitutional and embarrassing law continues to stay on our books.”

Previous legislative attempts to remove the sodomy ban from the books in Montana were unsuccessful, but this year, repeal passed the state Senate 38-11 and the House 64-35.  The law has been unenforceable since 1997, when the Montana Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional.  That decision was later backed up by the Supreme Court 2003 opinion in Lawrence v. Texas, which struck down sodomy laws across the U.S.  When a law is invalidated by the courts, it becomes unenforceable, but remains on the books and can only be removed by a vote of the legislature.

Last year, at a party convention, the Montana GOP renounced its position of support for the ban as part of its platform, paving the way for a renewed legislative push that could garner more support from Republican legislators.  Two repeal bills, in fact, were prepared in late 2012 for this year’s legislative session, one written by Democrat Tom Facey and one by Republican Nicholas Schwarderer.  Although it was Facey’s bill that was eventually adopted, Schwarderer told the Huffington Post last years, “In Montana we have a legacy of respecting people’s rights.  This flies in the face of what we’re about.”

Seventeen other states still have unenforceable sodomy ban statutes in their state codes.  A bill which is currently pending in Texas to repeal that state’s ban was advanced by a Senate committee on a unanimous 5-0 vote this week.

Below the jump, watch a video of the celebration that broke out in the Montana capitol building moments after Gov. Bullock signed the repeal bill into law.

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