As Montana’s legislature has discussed repealing its unconstitutional sodomy laws, state Rep. Ken Peterson (R) has propagated many negative messages about gays and lesbians, suggesting the law isn’t unconstitutional at all and should remain on the books.
Peterson argues there are still at least two prosecutable offenses: 1) The “recruitment” of non-gays and 2) public displays of same-sex affection:
— Homosexuals can’t go out into the heterosexual community and try to recruit people, or try to enlist them in homosexual acts. ‘Here, young man, your hormones are raging. Let’s go in this bedroom, and we’ll engage in some homosexual acts. You’ll find you like it.’
— In my mind, if they were engaging in acts in public that could be construed as homosexual, it would violate that statute. It has to be more than affection. It has to be overt homosexual acts of some kind or another… If kissing goes to that extent, yes. If it’s more than that, yes.
Peterson has no examples to substantiate his first claim, explaining, “I don’t associate with that group of people at all… I’ve associated with mainstream people all my life.” While “recruiting” gays is an absurd and archaic idea, such a proposition would be protected speech under the First Amendment anyway. Prosecuting same-sex kissing would similarly violate the First Amendment right to expression, but The Supreme Court held in Romer v. Evans that laws motivated solely by anti-gay animus are unconstitutional. It is difficult to see how his defense of the sodomy laws could be motivated by anything else.
Given his lack of association with “that group of people,” Peterson’s views are likely a reflection of his identification with the Church of Latter-Day Saints, whose leaders still condemn homosexuality as abnormal and amoral. Despite recently removing same-sex attraction from its list of sins, the Mormon Church still employs electric-shock therapy and other harmful ex-gay therapies to treat same-sex attraction.
Peterson also recently supported a measure that would have prevented Montana municipalities from passing non-discrimination ordinances that would protect LGBT Montanans, claiming the protections recently offered in Missoula don’t offer the necessary due process. The measure ultimately failed. (Tennessee is similarly attempting to limit its municipalities in this way.)
Various rights groups have been critical of Peterson in his role as House Judiciary Chairman, pointing out that he allots more time and allowances to pro-life and anti-gay groups testifying in hearings. Peterson defended himself against the criticisms, saying “I think they aren’t sitting in my chair so they don’t know to a large extent.”