Montana's GOP wrestles with same-sex politics 

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English thinks there are a lot of other Republicans like him; focused on the economy, they'd prefer to steer clear of regulating sexuality altogether. "Many Republicans just consider this silliness," he says.

Former state Sen. John Brueggeman from Polson goes further; he's angry about it. It's hard to call the language in Montana law and the state party platform "anything but draconian," Brueggeman says. "It's so offensive on its face, it's just shocking that it would actually be embodied in any statement by any group."

In 2010, after the party again called to re-criminalize gay sex, Brueggeman said he'd carry a bill calling for the removal of the state's deviate sexual conduct code—an unprecedented move for a Republican legislator in Montana. "After what had happened with the last GOP convention," he explains, "it was even more important to make a serious statement as an elected Republican that this is not what we stand for."

But Brueggeman didn't have a chance to carry the legislation. He resigned at the end of November 2010, roughly a month before the legislative session. He said work responsibilities made it too difficult to serve.

Brueggeman, who is 33, is part of a growing group of youthful Republicans who seem to have no qualms about homosexuality. "The older generations aren't as comfortable talking about or dealing with the gay element of society, the LGBT element of society, and the issues surrounding that," he says. "I think what you see with my generation, and the Gen Xs and the Gen Ys and the coming generations, is, we don't care."

click to enlarge State GOP Crime Committee Chair Keith Regier - PHOTO BY STEELE WILLIAMS

According to a poll conducted by CNN and market research company ORC International in May of this year, 54 percent of those asked supported same-sex marriage; 73 percent of those polled between the ages of 18 and 34 said they favored marriage equality.

The GOP will lose ground if it keeps resisting gay rights legislation, Brueggeman says. "Continued adherence to policies or positions that tend to exclude or limit the rights of people in the LGBT community isn't going to work in the future."

Some notable Republicans have come out in favor of gay rights lately. Earlier this month, Paul E. Singer, a 67-year-old billionaire hedge fund manager from New York, said he was creating a new Super PAC specifically to fund Republican candidates who support gay marriage. The idea behind the American Unity PAC, Singer told The New York Times, is to encourage Republican congressional candidates "'who could be on the verge of support' or are 'harboring and hiding their views.'"

Singer is a player in the national Republican Party. According to The Times, he raised $5 million during one fundraiser last month for Mitt Romney. Singer also has a gay son who wed his partner in 2004. Former Vice President Dick Cheney and his wife Lynne, meanwhile, announced last week that they were "delighted" that their daughter, Mary Cheney, was able to wed her longtime partner, Heather Poe, in a ceremony June 22 in Washington, D.C.

According to the same CNN/ORC International poll, 60 percent of 1,009 survey respondents from across the nation said they had a close friend or family member who is gay. That's up from 49 percent in 2010, which could mean one of two things: there are now more gay people, or homosexuals are increasingly coming out of the closet.

If the latter is true, it's at least in part the fruition of a long-standing civil rights initiative. At the 1978 Gay Freedom Parade in San Francisco, for example, gay rights leader Harvey Milk told a crowd of more than 250,000 people that, in order to make gains, gays and lesbians needed to stop hiding. "We will not win our rights by staying quietly in our closets," Milk said. "We are coming out to fight the lies, the myths, the distortions. We are coming out to tell the truths about gays, for I am tired of the conspiracy of silence. So I'm going to talk about it. And I want you to talk about it. You must come out. Come out to your parents, your relatives."

click to enlarge PHOTO BY STEELE WILLIAMS

In Montana, on June 16, the state GOP crime committee presented its changes and amendments to a Republican voting body composed of delegates from across the state. The larger body must endorse committee changes before they're enshrined in the GOP platform.

English was nervous before the vote, unsure how his peers would respond to the committee's efforts to strike the homosexual acts language. But when standing Crime Committee Chair Cleve Loney, a Great Falls representative in the Montana Legislature, addressed the convention on that warm Saturday morning, he didn't detail the deliberations that drove the crime committee to remove the homosexual acts plank. But for Loney briefly alluding to the fact that the GOP's stance on marriage is addressed elsewhere in the platform, there was no discussion whatsoever about homosexual acts before the convention adopted the change.

English now worries that in a rush to approve the platform, the delegates weren't aware that the deviate acts language was removed. Despite his nerves, English says, he would have liked to have had a more substantive examination of where the GOP now stands on homosexuality. "I would have preferred to have the discussion, myself, and get it over with."

There seems to be a sense now in the state GOP that such a conversation has been postponed, like a due bill on a payment plan. English, for example, points out that while the homosexual acts plank is gone, some of his fellow party members aren't necessarily committed to abstaining from sexual regulation. "A blank space doesn't bind them at all," he says.

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