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We've reported previously about how Republicans in Montana's Legislature, completely overrun by some of the most extremist of all the Tea Party elements, have been going nuts this session, passing a variety of bills that have been so obviously unconstitutional and frivolous (not to mention downright insane) that last week the Democratic governor felt compelled to make a very public display of his vetoes -- with a branding iron.
But the problem isn't merely with the legislation they're passing. There's also a problem with the legislation they're refusing to pass.
For instance, last month a Democrat offered up a bill that should have been uncontroversial: It would have officially repealed the state's primitive anti-homosexuality law, already long overturned by the state's Supreme Court. But no: the Tea-Partying Republicans running the House committee overseeing the bill simply killed it in the crib.
So one of those Republicans last week explained to the Missoula Independent exactly what his thinking was:
The legislature's inaction was not, it turns out, another non-priority falling off the too-long to-do list. Rather, it's homophobic lawmakers subtly suggesting that homosexual acts should still be outlawed, the Supreme Court—and equal rights in general—be damned. In fact, at least one lawmaker, Rep. Ken Peterson, R-Billings, an attorney, argues that the archaic law may still apply in certain situations.
Which situations? According to Peterson, chair of the House Judiciary Committee, there are at least two prosecutable offenses—felonies punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a $50,000 fine. One is the "recruitment" of non-gays. "Homosexuals can't go out into the heterosexual community and try to recruit people, or try to enlist them in homosexual acts," Peterson says. He provides an example: "'Here, young man, your hormones are raging. Let's go in this bedroom, and we'll engage in some homosexual acts. You'll find you like it.'" Peterson hasn't actually seen this happen, he says, because "I don't associate with that group of people at all... I've associated with mainstream people all my life."
The other offense, in Peterson's legal opinion, is the public display of homosexuality, since he believes the Supreme Court's decision only applies to private acts behind closed doors. Being gay in public, he says, is a wholly different matter:
"In my mind, if they were engaging in acts in public that could be construed as homosexual, it would violate that statute. It has to be more than affection. It has to be overt homosexual acts of some kind or another... If kissing goes to that extent, yes. If it's more than that, yes."
Peterson says the law in question, which was ruled unconstitutional in 1997, still has merits. He says the Montana Supreme Court's decision had a narrow scope limiting prosecution only in private settings.
"I feel the law can still have some potential application," he said Friday, "I don't think it was repealed with the Grayson case, anyone that says it was repealed hasn't read the case and doesn't understand the case."
He says gays and lesbians can and should be prosecuted for overt sexual acts in public, and for "recruiting" members of the straight community.
However, he also tried to claim that he did not say something that he in fact plainly said:
Friday, he told us he stands by them, but says some were taken out of context. Specifically, he said characterizations that kissing in public could lead to prosecution were untrue.
Peterson said he gets along fine with his gay and lesbian colleagues and did not intend to offend the LGBT community with his comments.
Peterson, in fact, was probably one of the more thoughtful Tea Partiers who weighed in on this issue. Legislators arguing over the bill in committee were even worse:
Sen. Facey said the reason he brought this bill to the legislature is because words matter. And the fact that this law remains on our books sends a message to gay and lesbian people in our state.
Unfortunately, members of the committee did not hear Sen. Facey when he said “words matter.” Throughout the hearing, GOP members constantly equated homosexuality with bestiality and pedophilia. In fact, one opposing witness of the bill went so far as to say all pedophiles are either gay or bisexual.
In an even more disturbing exchange, Rep. Bob Wagner (of Anderson Cooper 360 fame) asked a series of questions that were intended to imply that all homosexual men have HIV and then have to rely on state assistance for their medical care.
Proponents of Sen. Facey’s bill, who have worked multiple legislative sessions, said that this hearing was the most disgusting hearing they have seen in their years at the Capitol.
I sure hope Montana voters are proud of what they have wrought.