Metro Weekly

Montana man will not be listed as sex offender for 1994 conviction for consensual gay sex

Judge finds Randall Menges, convicted under a now-defunct anti-sodomy law in Idaho, poses no threat to public safety.

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Photo: Adam Neumann, via Unsplash.

A man convicted of having consensual gay sex under Idaho’s now-defunct state sodomy law will not have to register as a sex offender in Montana, a federal judge has ruled.

Randall Menges, 45, was convicted under Idaho’s Crimes Against Nature law in 1994, at age 18, after he had consensual sex with two 16-year-old boys. After serving seven years in prison, Menges was required to register as a sex offender in Idaho.

But when Menges moved to Montana in the mid-2000s, he was forced to register as a sex offender, due to a law requiring a person registered as a sex offender in another state to register in Montana as well.

Even though Montana repealed its own anti-sodomy law in 2013, there is no exemption for people who were convicted of violating anti-sodomy laws in other states. Idaho, South Carolina, and Mississippi are the three states that still require sex offender registration for people convicted under those now-defunct anti-sodomy laws.

While in prison, Menges had attempted to get his conviction overturned, but missed the deadline to file. He is currently one of several plaintiffs suing Idaho to overturn their convictions under the state’s now-defunct anti-sodomy law, which was nullified by a 2003 Supreme Court decision overturning state bans on consensual same-sex relations.

Menges says that being forced to register as a sex offender in Montana has limited his ability to find employment, pursue relationships, and has even limited where he can live due to restrictions preventing sex offenders from living near schools, community centers, or other spaces.

Furthermore, when people find out he’s a registered sex offender, many of them don’t believe his story about being convicted for consensual gay sex. As such, last December, he sued to overturn the requirement forcing him to register as a sex offender, arguing that the individual circumstances of his conviction need to be taken into account.

After he filed his lawsuit, the Montana Attorney General’s Office came out in opposition to removing Menges from the sex offender registry — a move that some critics saw as a form of retaliation.

On Tuesday, U.S. District Court Judge Dana Christensen found that requiring Menges to register as a sex offender is unconstitutional, although he kept the opinion narrowly focused to the specifics of Menges’ case. He noted that while Montana’s sexual offender registration laws usually serve compelling government interests, a decades-old conviction for consensual sex under a now-defunct law does not pose a threat to public safety, reports the Missoulian.

See also: California lawmakers pass bill to apply sexual offense laws equally to LGBTQ people

“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,” Christensen wrote in his opinion.

The attorney general’s office has said it will appeal the ruling, citing the need to protect children from falling prey to sex offenders.

“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,” Emilee Cantrell, the press secretary for the attorney general’s office said in a statement.

Matthew Strugar, an attorney representing Menges, argued in the original complaint that the facts of the case revolved specifically around the “lingering effects of centuries of homophobic ‘sodomy’ prohibitions.”

“It is unconscionable that in 2021, Montana would still put people convicted of having gay sex on the sex offender registry,” Strugar told the Missoulian. “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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