The fight to repeal Montana's so-called sodomy ban, which was declared unconstitutional, is facing a larger hurdle, prompting the bill's sponsor to describe its chances in the Republican-controlled state House as "dubious."
State Sen. Tom Facey (D-Missoula) told The Huffington Post that he expects the state Senate to pass the bill late this week, but that the make-up of the House would likely lead to defeat as in previous years.
"Its passage in the House is dubious," Facey told HuffPost. "The House Judiciary Committee does not have as friendly members. The House members on Judiciary are not as thoughtful as Senate members."
Advocates for overturning the law, which bans "sexual contact or sexual intercourse between two persons of the same sex," said the repeal would have a better shot this year after the Montana Republican Party took language supporting the ban out of its platform in 2012.
Facey predicted that he has 50 votes in the 100-member House, but he needs 60 members for a floor vote without the committee's backing. Facey has been pushing the bill for more than a decade.
The ban was declared unconstitutional by the Montana Supreme Court in 1997 and the U.S. Supreme Court ruled state sodomy bans unconstitutional in 2003. Despite the rulings and the lack of ability to enforce the ban, the language remains on the books until the Legislature passes a bill. More than a dozen states currently have some form of a sodomy ban on the books.
"It needs to pass to send a signal that the courts matter," Facey said.
Facey has been joined this year in pushing the bill by state Rep. Nicholas Schwarderer (R-Missoula). Schwarderer is not the first Republican to back the repeal; former state Sen. John Brueggeman (R-Polson) also announced his support in 2010.
While Facey said the bill faces steep hurdles in the House, state Rep. Bryce Bennett (D-Missoula), the first openly gay man elected to Montana's legislature, said he remains "optimistic" about the bill's chances this year. "We've seen some great progress on this issue in the last few years," Bennett said.
Opponents said they fear overturning the ban would allow schools and government to promote homosexuality. State Sen. Verdell Jackson (R-Kalispell) told HuffPost last year that he feared passage would mean gay people would attempt to "proselytize" children "on the street" and that teaching children about homosexuality during puberty, "messes them up."
Earlier this week in neighboring Wyoming, opponents of gay marriage told the state House Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisons Committee that allowing gay marriage would cause similar effects, including potential school-based promotional campaigns. The committee rejected a gay marriage bill, but supported domestic partnership legislation, which was defeated by the House Wednesday.
State Rep. Jerry O'Neil (R-Columbia Falls) told HuffPost this week that he would support any legislation to prevent state government from regulating what two consenting adults do in their bedroom. But he voiced concerns similar to Jackson's.
"I don't want it to be in the schools, to teach it as an acceptable way to live," O'Neil said. "If we make it legal, we will teach it as acceptable and I don't want schools or government to promote that lifestyle."