HELENA – Delegates to the Montana Democratic Party platform convention went on record unanimously Saturday for repealing Montana’s constitutional ban on gay marriage.
Without any debate, they supported striking existing platform language advocating legal protection for same-sex civil unions and offering those couples the same legal benefits and responsibilities granted to other individuals “united by civil contracts under Montana laws.”
Instead, the Democrats adopted this new language:
“We support repealing Section 7, Article 13 of the Montana Constitution. All adults should have the right to legally marry another adult of their choice, regardless of sex or gender. We believe same-sex spouses should have the same legal benefits, protections and responsibilities granted to all those who marry.”
Platforms are a statement of a political party’s philosophy. Any changes in the Montana Constitution would have to be endorsed by the Legislature and approved by voters, or proposed and passed as a constitutional initiative or changed by a court.
In 2004, Montanans, by a 2-1 margin, voted for a constitutional initiative to ban same-sex marriages. The provision says: “Only a marriage between one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in this state.”
Later Saturday, state Democratic Chairman Jim Elliott of Trout Creek said, “We don’t believe in discrimination. The constitution is a statement to limit the role of government in people’s lives, not to increase it.”
President Barack Obama last month said he supported the right of gay and lesbian couples to marry.
Jamee Greer, an organizer with the Montana Human Rights Network, praised the state Democratic delegates’ decision.
“We’re really happy to hear that the Montana Democratic Party unanimously endorsed full equality for gay and lesbian Montanans,” he said. “We hope that the Montana Republican Party makes a similar decision next week at their convention, including eliminating a platform plank that calls for re-criminalization of gay and lesbian Montanans.”
In 1997, the Montana Supreme Court declared Montana’s anti-sodomy law unconstitutional.
The state Republican platform now says: “We support the clear will of the people of Montana expressed by legislation to keep homosexual acts illegal.”
Top Democrats were asked about their stands on the gay marriage issue later Saturday.
U.S. Sen. Max Baucus issued a statement supporting gay marriage, saying: "I don't believe the federal government should be getting involved in people's private lives. Adults should be free to choose who they spend their lives with a committed relationship.
Sen. Jon Tester couldn’t be reached for comment, although the Wall Street Journal reported May 15 that Tester supports civil unions for same-sex couples, but wouldn’t challenge Montana’s constitutional policy of defining marriage as being a union between a man and a woman.
Gov. Brian Schweitzer could not be reached for comment later Saturday. When running for governor in 2004, he supported the state ballot measure calling for a ban on same-sex marriage.
The Democratic nominee for governor, Attorney General Steve Bullock, through campaign manager Kevin O’Brien, said, “Equality is something we should work for, and Steve is proud that Democrats are leading.”
O’Brien criticized the Republican platform language and went on to say: “While Montana voters defined marriage by constitutional amendment in 2004, Steve is committed to working so that committed same-sex couples can be together, free from discrimination.”
Missoulian State Bureau reporter Charles S. Johnson can be reached at (406) 447-4066 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.