Despite gains by the LGBT rights movement this past year, including the Montana Republican Party’s June removal of a plank that for years called to re-criminalize gay sex, Dallas Erickson isn’t giving up on his fight to preserve Montana’s long-standing prohibitions against homosexuality.
For years, Erickson, founder of a group called Help Our Moral Environment, has testified in front of the Montana Legislature about the perils of homosexual sex. Nearly every time a proposal to further gay equality comes before lawmakers, Erickson is there to oppose it. His most recent effort to fend off the gay rights movement garnered support earlier this month from Republican Rep. Nancy Ballance of Hamilton. Ballance worked with Erickson to draft a bill, now called "Legislative Council 1854," or LC 1854, that aims to create a separate criminal penalty for sexual assault or child molestation, if the crime is perpetrated by an individual who is the same biological sex as the victim.
In 1997, the Montana Supreme Court struck down the portion of the state’s deviate sexual conduct law that made gay sex a crime punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a $50,000 fine. Since then, progressive lawmakers have attempted to remove the law from the books. Republican opposition has prevented that from happening.
Missoula Democratic Sen. Tom Facey estimates that he’s introduced legislation to erase the homosexual acts prohibition during four previous sessions. This year, he’s trying again with Senate Bill 107, which is slated for a second reading next week. “I think it will get a good vote out of the Senate,” Facey says.
He’s got reason to be optimistic. During the last session, the Senate passed a bill that mirrors SB 107. The House, however, let the legislation die in committee.
In light of that track record, Erickson hopes that the House will approve provisions included in LC 1854.
It remains to be seen, however, if Erickson will be able to make his proposal fly. He admits his effort faces challenges. Most notably, Erickson says he’s short on resources, making it tough for him to launch an aggressive lobbying effort. Further complicating issues is the fact that, as of Thursday morning, Erickson didn’t have a sponsor to carry LC 1854.
While Ballance worked with Erickson to draft LC 1854, she says she’s too busy to carry the bill. So busy, in fact, that Ballance says she hasn’t yet read the proposed legislation very carefully. “I don’t know that I’m for or against, at this point,” she says.
In light of those challenges, Erickson says he might simply wait until Facey’s bill reaches the House. Perhaps then he can persuade lawmakers to use language from LC 1854 to amend Facey’s bill. Rather than simply striking the prohibition against consensual homosexual sex, as Facey proposes, Erickson wants to make same-sex rape, sexual assault and child molestation a felony, above and beyond existing punishments for forced intercourse and child abuse.
“I’m thinking of just waiting,” Erickson says. “SB 107 is probably going to go through the Senate. I might just wait until it gets out and try to amend it.”
Photo of Dallas Erickson by Sarah Daisy Linkmark