Montana News

Apr 21, 2011 2:18 PM by Melissa Anderson (Helena)

Montana judge rules against same-sex couples

A District Court Judge in Helena has ruled in favor of the State in a motion to dismiss the same-sex partnership issue in Montana.

The ACLU asked the First Judicial Court in January to recognize same-sex couples as domestic partnerships in Montana to guarantee protection of their rights.

In Judge Sherlock's ruling, which was filed April 19th, it states, "...in spite of this Court's sympathy for the plight of the Plaintiffs this court finds that the state's motion to dismiss should be granted." It further states, "This court finds that to be an inappropriate exercise of this Court's power. Primarily it would violate the separation of powers contained in the Montana Constitution."

The lawsuit asks that sames-sex couples and their families be protected under Montana's Constitution without having to go to trial. Because Montana voters passed a constitutional amendment in 2004 barring marriage for same-sex couples, the six couples in the lawsuit claim their constitutional rights of privacy, dignity, and pursuit of life's basic necessities are not being granted.

At issue is the right to allow the couples access to share healthcare information, medical insurance, and the right to privacy.

In January, one of the plaintiffs in the case, Jan Donaldson, said, "We need to be able to make medical decisions with and for one another. We need to be able to know that our joint properties will go to the other person as it is in other arrangements. It's just time."

The state Attorney General's office argued in the case that the marriage amendment binds the court and is now included in our state constitution. They stated that public policy was decided on by the people when they voted in favor of CI-96, which asserted that that marriage in Montana can only be between one man and one woman.

Although no statement has been issued officially by the ACLU at this time, a source told us that their attorney Betsy Griffing of Missoula is reading the ruling and reviewing it.

The ACLU stated earlier that it is prepared to take the lawsuit all the way to the Montana Supreme Court if necessary.

(January 25, 2011) The American Civil Liberties Union appeared in district court in Helena for arguments on behalf of six same-sex couples seeking domestic partnership recognition. The case, Donaldson and Guggenheim v. State of Montana, was filed in July 2010.

It seeks protection for same-sex Montana couples and their families under the Montana Constitution's rights of privacy.

The ACLU says the goal of the lawsuit is to ensure that same-sex couples and their families have access to the same legal protections that opposite-sex couples are offered through marriage.

The Montana Constitution defines marriage as being between a man and a woman.

The ACLU has asked for the judge to rule on the case without trial, while MT Attorney General Steve Bullock has made a motion for the case to be dismissed.

Plaintiffs in the case Donaldson and Guggenheim v. State of Montana are Mary Anne Guggenheim and Jan Donaldson of Helena, Stacey Haugland and Mary Leslie of Bozeman, Mike Long and Rich Parker of Bozeman, MJ Williams and Nancy Owens of Basin, Rick Wagner and Gary Stallings of Butte, Denise Boettcher and Kellie Gibson of Laurel, and Casey Charles and David Wilson of Missoula.

(November 10, 2010) Montana Attorney General Steve Bullock has filed a motion to dismiss a lawsuit aiming to grant same-sex couples the same legal rights as married couples.

In making the motion, Bullock's office points to the Montana State Constitution, which limits spousal benefits to married couples.

In Montana, legal marriage is between a man and a woman. The suit, which was filed in July, wants same-sex couples to have the same legal say as married couples in matters like medical care and inheritance.

The ACLU plans on filing a response in December.

A hearing on the motions is scheduled for January 25th in Helena.