A man convicted of consensual gay sex in the 1990s will not have to register as a sex offender in Montana in a seismic federal court ruling.
In 1993 when he was just 18, Randall Menges had consensual sex with two teenage boys at an Idaho camp.
He spent seven years behind bars for violating the state’s “crimes against nature” law, according to federal court documents, before being placed on Idaho’s sex offender registry.
Nearly three decades since, and as much as the sodomy charge has since been dubbed unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, Menges was forced to remain on the registry in both Idaho and then Montana, where he has since moved to.
Across both states, Menges’ status haunted him. He was swiftly rejected from jobs, lost friends and even had suicidal ideations – his life capturing the grievances some advocates feel about the registries for how they shove people into the margins.
But last Tuesday (12 May), he cried tears of joy after a federal judge ruled that Menges’s name should be stripped from Montana’s sex offender registry.
“None of the governmental interests in maintaining a sexual offender registry are served by Menges’ inclusion,” wrote US district judge Dana Christensen in his decision, according to the New York Post.
The statute, he said, caused Randall Menges “significant” hardships, and his name being kept on the registry is not in both the public or police’s interests.
“Under Montana’s constitutional scheme, having consensual intimate sexual contact with a person of the same sex does not render someone a public safety threat to the community,” he wrote.
“Law enforcement has no valid interest in keeping track of such persons’ whereabouts.”
It’s a vital victory after a years-long legal battle waged by Randall Menges, who sought to use Montana Attorney General over the state’s requirement he still be listed as a sex offender. The Montana Attorney General’s Office pushed back against his plea.
“I guess I’m just grateful, honestly, that the judge actually listened and was fair because for the last few years of my life,” Menges told reporters of the ruling, “I don’t feel like anything’s been fair.”
His lawyer, Elizabeth Ehert, said the ruling would enable Randall Menges to at long last rebuild a life dented by the decades-old and outdated charge. His life, she said, “has been utterly destroyed by the homophobic laws that made gay sex illegal”.
But for a victory long-fought came a swift backlash. Montana’s Republican attorney general Austin Knudsen has vowed to appeal the verdict.
His office told The New York Times that Christensen’s ruling “weakens our state’s sex-offender registry law, making kids and families less safe”.
“Montana law is clear,” they said, “if you are required to register as a sex offender in another state, you must also register here.”