HELENA — On the heels of a district judge’s ruling against the law, legislators considered on Friday whether to strike a voter-enacted ban on gay marriage from the Montana Constitution.
Rep. Bryce Bennett, D-Missoula, introduced House Bill 282 in the House Judiciary Committee on Friday. The bill would remove same-sex couples from a list of prohibited marriages.
On Nov. 19, U.S. District Judge Brian Morris said Montana’s ban on same-sex marriage violates the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause. Montana joined 32 other states — a total that has now reached 36 — that allow or have seen rulings allowing same-sex marriages.
John Ilgenfritz of Helena spoke in favor of the bill. He shared stories of his uncle who was disowned by half his family after announcing his homosexuality, and his cousin who died two years ago having lived life alone instead of telling his parents he was gay.
“He missed out on a lot of joy and a lot of happiness in his life because of the prevailing attitudes of his community,” Ilgenfritz said of his cousin. “I think these folks ought to have the same love and respect that my wife and I have had.”
Pat Plowman of Carbon County said House Bill 182 along with Senate Bill 179, which would prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation, would unfairly affect other interest groups. “I’m sure you are also aware of the use of such laws to force Christians and members of other faiths to participate against their faith in homosexual weddings,” Plowman told the committee.
Senate Bill 179 was tabled on Friday directly after its hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Andy Huff, chief legal counsel to Gov. Steve Bullock, said religious groups would retain their fundamental right to practice their religion despite state or federal decisions to allow gay marriage.
Representatives from various Christian churches in Montana spoke on both sides of the issue.
Jeff Laszloffy, president of Montana Family Foundation, said he wrote the language of the gay marriage ban that appeared as ballot initiative 96 in 2004. With 67 percent of voters in favor, Montana passed the ban that year.
Laszloffy, other opponents and some members of the committee questioned removing the law before the U.S. Supreme Court rules on the constitutionality of same-sex marriage bans. The high court’s decision is expected this summer.
“That would be the definitive, legal end to the question of whether forbidding same-sex marriage is constitutional under the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution,” Huff said.
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