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Montana legislature votes down gay rights bills

Montana legislature votes down gay rights bills

The Montana legislature voted down several bills supported by gay rights advocates this session. Though none survived, Democratic senator Ken Toole said gay rights made the largest advance yet with three measures passing the senate before dying in the house. Those measures would have established a statewide next-of-kin registry, added protection for gays to the Montana Human Rights Act, and implemented a statewide antibullying policy for schools. The political tide is slowly turning, Toole said. "We understand this to be a 15- to 20-year process," he said. "All civil rights issues traditionally have taken a long time." But some gay rights advocates say lawmakers are behind the times. In March the Montana University System opened its health insurance plan to same-sex partners of university employees after a state supreme Court ruling struck down the board's previous policy that prohibited coverage of same-sex partners. "It's disappointing that Montana legislators don't consider equal rights for all a serious issue," said Linda Gryczan, a Helena lobbyist. "I think the legislature is behind the population in terms of acceptance and full inclusion of gays and lesbians." A January hearing on a measure to allow civil unions brought so many opponents that dozens were left with only enough time to give their names. Many who spoke at length referred to their religious opposition to gay marriage. "I'll never be able to support bills which try to overturn centuries of moral ideology," said Republican senator Dan McGee. "Homosexuality is wrong. I think what has happened in this legislative session means there are other people who feel the same way." Last November, two thirds of Montana voters approved a constitutional amendment defining marriage as only between a man and a woman. The civil unions measure never left committee. The next-of-kin registry bill and the antibullying bill survived the senate. Republican senator Sam Kitzenberg sponsored the antibullying bill. The former teacher said he's seen his share of bullying through the years. The measure would have prohibited bullying based on many characteristics, including race, color, religion, and ancestry, as well as sexual orientation. "Because sexual orientation was in there, it raised huge red flags for people," Gryczan said. "I think people are still afraid of difference." The bill to create a next-of-kin registry failed as well. The measure would have created a statewide registry where any Montana resident could designate his or her legal next of kin for the purposes of hospital visitation, medical decisions, and receipt of the body after death. Gay rights advocates frequently voice concerns that gays and lesbians are not allowed to visit their partners in hospitals or make important end-of-life decisions. (AP)

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