GOP aims to criminalize gays

Gay rights activists are mobilizing in opposition to the Montana Republican Party platform adopted June 19 that calls to criminalize homosexuality.

"All people should be calling for the elimination of this plank," says Jamee Greer from the Montana Human Rights Network.

The platform came under heavy criticism from national commentators at blogs like Daily Kos, Think Progress and Towleroad. Closer to home, Tim Adams, who sits on the Western Montana Gay & Lesbian Community Center's board of directors, launched a Facebook page called: "Tell MT GOP to Remove Hate from Their Platform." The group asks members to pressure GOP representatives into changing the party stance and drew 159 new members in just three days.

"I'm glad to see that there seems to be growing outrage," Greer says.

When reached by phone last week, Montana GOP Chairman Will Deschamps confirmed that at last two thirds of the Republican Party's approximately 99 delegates voted in favor of criminalizing homosexual acts.

"Well, obviously there's a belief in the Republican Party that those sorts of actions should be illegal," Deschamps said. "The majority of the people feel that it should be outlawed."

The move reaffirmed the party's 2008 platform.

"As I recall there was very little discussion when that came to the floor," Deschamps said of the recent vote. "It went through very rapidly."

Until 1997, Montana statute made it a felony for two people of the same gender to have sexual contact. Those prosecuted under the law faced 10 years in prison and a $50,000 fine. Montana's Supreme Court struck down the statute in 1997, declaring it a violation of Montana's constitutional right to privacy. But the Legislature never actually repealed the law, and it remains on the books.

Deschamps said while Montana Republicans advocate criminalizing sexual activity between people of the same sex, the GOP isn't pushing for any specific punishment. State representatives would be left to find a fitting penalty.

"I guess that would be up to the Legislature," he said. "Political parties don't establish punishments."

Despite heat from left-leaning critics, Deschamps said the GOP has no intention of altering its position.

"It's the platform that was adopted by the Montana Republican Party," he said. "And that's the way it will stand."

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