It’s all about momentum…and right now, Montana’s gay and lesbian community is rolling in it.
During the first week of July, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down state bans on gay sex. That same week, news came from across the border that Canada has legalized gay marriage. The Supreme Court’s ruling arrived in conjunction with the five-year anniversary of a landmark Montana Supreme Court case in which Montana’s “deviant sex” statute was decriminalized. While the Legislature has so far refused to take the state’s anti-sodomy law off the books, Montana PRIDE Executive Director Karl Olson says that doesn’t matter. The gay and lesbian community is knocking, and it plans to come in.
“They’re on the books, but the laws aren’t enforceable, they have no teeth,” says Olson. “What’s more significant is that, on a broader scale, anti-gay sodomy laws [now] can’t be used to justify other forms of anti-gay discrimination.”
As per Canada’s landmark decision, Olsen adds: “I think this is very exciting [for the United States]. I don’t know how it’s going to play out, but it certainly is exciting.”
Not everybody is as psyched as Olson to see the momentum build. In an AP story last week on the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision, Montana Family Coalition Executive Director Julie Millam said: ‘‘America was built on biblical principles. Our laws come down from God and this violates God’s will.’’ Funny, we thought our laws came from Washington.
The state of Montana sure has a funny way of apologizing. After DNA evidence exonerated Jimmy Ray Bromgard for a rape he did not commit (see “Chromosome crime fighters,” by Mike Keefe-Feldman, Apr. 3, 2003), the Legislature offered Bromgard the chance to attend a Montana state university on the state’s tab. A bill, sponsored by Sen. John Bohlinger (R-Billings), was passed to make provisions for individuals in Bromgard’s unfortunate situation, as well as for children of policemen and firemen killed in the line of duty. Bromgard decided he’d take the state up on its offer, and as the bill went into effect July 1, Bromgard enrolled at Montana State University-Billings. Bromgard even quit his job hanging Sheetrock in anticipation of school. But while the state had passed a bill to take care of his education, it hadn’t actually provided any funding to pay for tuition.
Speaking from his home, an understandably baffled Bromgard says, “I don’t know why they didn’t appropriate the funds. Maybe they just forgot. Maybe they thought it was no big deal.”
It is a big deal to Bromgard, however, whose already shattered faith in the state has now suffered the proverbial straw atop the camel’s back.
“The people of Montana are wonderful, the scenery in Montana is wonderful, but the government of Montana is corrupt, broken and needs fixing,” he says.
There is light at the end of the tunnel for Bromgard. The Board of Trustees at MSU-Billings has decided to pick up the government’s slack and set up a fund for Bromgard to attend college. He plans to marry his fiancee, LaShon Gordon, as soon as he can afford to.
In the meantime, there’s still no coherent explanation from state lawmakers as to what happened to their pledge to fund Bromgard’s education. The sponsor of the free college bill, Sen. Bohlinger, told the Associated Press, “I don’t understand. This completely escapes me.”