HELENA, Montana (AP) — A U.S. state's lawmakers took the final step towards striking down an unconstitutional law that calls gay sex illegal, but the governor's office hasn't said whether he will sign the bill.
It's a symbolic act that still brought the woman who led the campaign against the Montana law to tears.
"I was actually surprised. ... I didn't realize how important it was going to be until it was there," Linda Gryczan told the Great Falls Tribune in a story published Wednesday.
Gryczan and other advocates called it a landmark victory for gay and lesbian rights in the largely rural western state.
The measure would strike from the state code the obsolete language criminalizing gay sex as deviate sexual conduct. Gryczan was the lead plaintiff in a 1995 lawsuit that led to the unanimous 1997 Montana Supreme Court decision that ruled the law unconstitutional.
But legislators resisted removing the obsolete language until now, as gay and lesbian advocates protested its continued presence was a reminder they were once considered felons.
Jamee Greer, a human rights activist and a lobbyist for the Montana Human Rights Network, said Republican legislators are coming around to recognizing that gays and lesbians deserve to be treated as equals.
"The fact is language matters, and those words matter. It's a relief to know this is moving forward," Greer said.
As more people make their sexual orientation known their friends, families and neighbors, it makes it easier for politicians from both parties to stand in favor of gay-rights issues, Greer said.
That shift has been seen at the national level, with the first Republican U.S. senator recently announcing his support for gay marriage because one of his sons is gay.