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Montana man convicted of consensual gay sex will not have to register as a sex offender
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Montana man convicted of consensual gay sex will not have to register as a sex offender

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Randall Menges (copy)

Randall Menges, along with his attorneys Matthew Strugar and Elizabeth Ehret, pause outside the Russell Smith Federal Courthouse in March. In its Tuesday ruling, the federal court stated Menges’ requirement to register is unconstitutional and that someone who is having consensual sexual contact with someone of the same sex does not pose a threat to public safety.

A federal judge ruled on Tuesday that a former Missoula man convicted of having gay sex would not have to register as a sex offender.

Randall Menges, 45, was convicted of having gay sex in Idaho in 1994 after he had consensual sex with two 16-year-old boys. Menges was 18 at the time. 

He was convicted under Idaho's Crimes Against Nature law, which bans anal and oral sex between consenting adults, according to the lawsuit initially filed by Menges in December 2020.

In its Tuesday ruling, the federal court stated Menges’ requirement to register is unconstitutional and that someone who is having consensual sexual contact with someone of the same sex does not pose a threat to public safety.

After serving seven years in prison and being released on probation for the remainder of his sentence, Menges, who now lives in Butte, was required to register as a sex offender in Idaho. When he moved to Montana in the mid-2000s, the requirement to register followed him across state lines, according to court documents.

Menges said it should have not required a lawsuit to find the registry requirement unconstitutional, but that he’s happy it’s over.

“I’m grateful to the court for putting an end to my nightmare,” Menges said.

The attorney general’s office is appealing the ruling, Emilee Cantrell, press secretary of the Attorney General’s office said.

"We filed a notice of appeal because this order weakens our state's sex offender registry law and opens it up to more attacks from out-of-state lawyers who are more interested in politics than the safety of Montana children,” Cantrell said.

U.S. District Court Judge Dana Christensen presided at the Tuesday ruling.

“Montana has no rational basis for forcing Menges to register as a sexual offender on the basis of a 1994 Idaho conviction for engaging in oral or anal sex with a 16-year old male when he was 18, but not forcing those to register as a sexual offender who were convicted in Idaho in 1994 at the age of 18 for engaging in vaginal sex with a 16-year old female,” the ruling said.

Christensen added in his ruling that while Montana’s sexual offender registration laws usually serve compelling government interests, this does not apply to Menges’ case.

In December 2020, Menges filed a lawsuit against the Montana Attorney General's Office over whether the requirement to register violated his constitutional rights. The following March, the Montana Attorney General’s Office opposed removing Menges from the state’s sex offender registry.

“This case involves the lingering effects of centuries of homophobic 'sodomy' prohibitions,” Matthew Strugar, an attorney representing Menges, wrote in the original complaint.

Montana formally repealed its sodomy law in 2013 after a Supreme Court ruling in 2003 said sodomy laws were unconstitutional. However, Montana still required people with sodomy convictions to register as sex offenders if they were convicted in a state that still required registration, according to the press release. Idaho, South Carolina and Mississippi still require sex offender registration for people convicted under their sodomy laws.

“It is unconscionable that in 2021, Montana would still put people convicted of having gay sex on the sex offender registry,” Strugar said. “This kind of overt, state-sanctioned homophobia would have been surprising 30 years ago. Today it is shocking. And it is unconstitutional.”

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