Gay Montana Lawmaker Makes Emotional Plea to Decriminalize Homosexuality: I am Not a Felon — VIDEO


Yesterday, the Montana House voted to move a bill that would remove the state statutes criminalizing gay sex out of the House Judiciary Committee to the agenda for a full House vote following a passionate motion from 28-year-old Rep. Bryce Bennett (D-Missoula), the state's first openly gay male lawmaker.

BennettBennett made a powerful, personal plea to his fellow lawmakers (my transcript):

Despite the fact that we may disagree on issues I believe that no one doubts my right to serve here with all of you as your equal. And members of the body, my colleagues, and my friends, under this law I am considered a felon. I am not your equal. In fact, this law puts me in the same category as people who rape animals.

Under this law, I could be imprisoned for up to ten years for being part of a loving, caring relationship. I've said before though, I know this law is not constitutional. It's not being enforced. I'm not worried about being arrested and taken to jail but I sitll feel the sting of this law still. Because words are very important and they matter. The fact that years later this language is still on the books means that our state still sees me as a criminal. The belief that I am a second-class citizen in a state I was born in and called home my entire life.

Members of the body this law is about me but it's also not just about me. Gay and lesbian Montanans are your friends, your coworkers, the soldiers that defend our nation, and for many of us, our family. Our mothers, fathers, grandparents, cousin, niece, nephew, brother, sister. We're not strangers. We're the people in your life that you love and respect. This bill is about honoring that basic respect for our fellow Montanans. This bill is about offering basic dignity to everyone in our state.


The House needs to approve the measure before it gets to the desk of Governor Steve Bullock.

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  1. Way to go Bryce.

    Posted by: Rees Cramer | Apr 9, 2013 9:07:38 AM

  2. Bravo and well said!

    Posted by: Tyler | Apr 9, 2013 9:09:43 AM

  3. Would have been nice to hear what came next. The "body" looked like he could have been talking about peeling potatoes. Was there any applause, I wonder? Will this bill pass unamiously, as it should?

    Posted by: Jeff | Apr 9, 2013 9:25:10 AM

  4. Great! BTW I like the lambskin chairs..

    Posted by: mymy | Apr 9, 2013 9:47:52 AM

  5. I second that mymy, I also want that fancy chair

    Posted by: Will | Apr 9, 2013 9:52:20 AM

  6. The House needs to approve the bill and right now it's very questionable, from what I've read, of that happening.

    It's a shame that something like this even exists but that was an awesome speech by Bryce! Very powerful, very moving. Let's hope it changes a few minds.

    Posted by: Francis #1 | Apr 9, 2013 9:57:08 AM

  7. They're not allowed to clap. They're not allowed to yell and pound on their desks either, which is what happened last week in the State Senate, but that's beside the point.

    Posted by: Justin | Apr 9, 2013 10:10:33 AM

  8. Constitutional sunset provisions would help speed up the clearing out of old, obsolete laws.

    Posted by: anon | Apr 9, 2013 10:51:03 AM

  9. This has been a long time coming- and it looks like it will pass. Thanks to all the urban brothers and sisters who have been so supportive of us in rural areas- the fight will continue here for decades to bring the rights so many of you already enjoy.

    Posted by: D Gregory Smith | Apr 9, 2013 11:05:50 AM

  10. I get the symbolic rationale, but the law is bad law and entirely unenforceable. Who cares? There are plenty of asinine laws on the books in every state. Seems like an enormous waste of Montana tax dollars to spend any time discussing it. I totally agree with the constitutional sunset provisions that negate the need to even spend money on this nonsense. Sometimes I find it hard to resist the arguments for a smaller government when I see examples of waste like this. Much like when House Republicans in the U.S. Congress spend time trying to pass a law to overturn Obamacare. Do you think he would ever sign that? Do you know how much it costs to have the Capitol running on any given day?

    Posted by: Fanzy Pantz | Apr 9, 2013 11:34:55 AM

  11. Aren't state anti-sodomy laws superseded by the Lawrence v Texas decision by the Supreme court? Any legal expert here who can explain.

    Posted by: simon | Apr 9, 2013 11:36:53 AM

  12. @Fanzy Pants: Even unenforceable laws have been used to deny basic rights to people: Employers can say (and have said) things like: "We can't hire her; she has a wife and that officially makes her a felon in this state."
    Bigoted school board members can say "We have to eliminate all positive images of gay people in textbooks; after all they are officially criminals."

    Getting rid of a ridiculous law should not require massive amounts of money (even though the House Republicans are, indeed, wasting millions millions of tax dollars on the DOMA case). All that should happen is that the issue is brought to the floor and there is an immediate vote to eliminate this "felony" from Montana state law. It need not be complicated and in a ttruly fair and free society would require no debate at all.

    Posted by: GregV | Apr 9, 2013 11:59:43 AM

  13. But it's already illegal nationwide. The US Supreme Court ruled in 2003 in the Lawrence decision that all sodomy laws are unconstitutional and thereby void. I don't get it???

    Posted by: Mario | Apr 9, 2013 12:34:57 PM

  14. Mario, some states keep laws on the books in the hope that a Supreme Court decision gets overturned or some kind of reasoning. Arkansas kept their "abortion is illegal" law on the books for that exact reason, that Roe v. Wade may be overturned someday.

    Posted by: Mike | Apr 9, 2013 12:38:56 PM

  15. What a powerful speech. Best of luck Bryce and my hat is off to you!

    Posted by: Howard | Apr 9, 2013 12:39:30 PM

  16. Oh, I get it. Thanks, Mike. Montana has a tradition of being a live and let live state, yet I fear that it's going in the opposite direction, in both the radical left and right. You should see the strange "churches" popping up around Kallispel that teach Marx as a god. I can't imagine the Supreme Court EVER overturning the Lawrence decision however. Even Clarence Thomas ruled in favor of overturning sodomy laws, despite his own personal views on homosexuality. Isn't that the essence of limited government---despite what your views are on something, you support another's right to do the opposite of what you might.

    Posted by: Mario | Apr 9, 2013 12:57:31 PM

  17. You are not a felon if you have not been charged and convincted of a crime. I sincerely hope this is not actually something people fail to understand.

    Posted by: Fanzy Pantz | Apr 9, 2013 1:28:45 PM

  18. Also, you cannot be a felon if the crime is not actually a crime. And the Supreme Court has made clear that such laws are unconstitutional and sodomy is not a crime. So the employer in your example would simply be wrong. And I doubt he or she would need a statute to make such a justification.

    Posted by: Fanzy Pantz | Apr 9, 2013 1:31:44 PM

  19. I see the Montana House is one step away from officially signing off on the repeal of this law. Sad that 1/3 of the Montana House supports this law but good that it's looking good to be repealed. The repeal of the sodomy law has died without final votes in the past and was TABLED by the House Judiciary Committee before Bryce Bennett took it upon himself to salvage the bill. His speech is beautiful and he deserves a lot of praise for standing up for himself as a gay man, and standing up for the gay community in Montana.

    Virginia also officially has repealed it's state sodomy law after an appeal from Ken Cuccinelli to reinstate it failed. So now 13 states, not including VA and Montana, have sodomy laws on the books. Yes, a quarter of the country still have state sodomy laws.

    The laws are used to demonize LGBT people. They're there for a reason. There is a reason why there's been so much resistance to eliminate these state bans.

    Also to note: The majority of Republicans in Montana's House voted to support the sodomy ban.

    Posted by: Francis #1 | Apr 10, 2013 12:25:37 AM

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