A Lockwood family that wants Montana's law against bigamy to be declared unconstitutional received an adverse ruling from a federal magistrate judge.
Nathan Collier and his wife Victoria, along with Christine Collier Parkinson filed their suit in August.
Earlier this week, U.S. Magistrate Carolyn Ostby recommended that the Colliers do not have standing to challenge the law.
Ostby says that's because there is no genuine threat of prosecution if they violate Montana's bigamy statutes.
In their suit, the Colliers name state Attorney General Tim Fox, Governor Steve Bullock, Yellowstone County Attorney Scott Twito, and Clerk of the the Yellowstone County District Court.
Both sides may file any objections to Ostby's findings by December 22.
After that date, federal Judge Susan Watters will have the final say on whether the lawsuit moves forward or is dismissed.
(AUGUST 27, 2015) Nathan Collier and his domestic partners, Vicki Collier and Christine Collier, tried to legalize their polygamous marriageon June 30, but Yellowstone County officials in Billings turned them away.
Now they have filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Billings, naming as defendants Montana Attorney General Tim Fox, Gov. Steve Bullock, Yellowstone County Attorney Scott Twito, and Clerk of Yellowstone County District Court Kristie Lee Boelter.
Collier and the women state in the lawsuit they are seeking their due process rights, which are protected under the 14th Amendment regarding individual dignity and autonomy, including choices defining personal identity and beliefs.
The trio said they were hopeful that their marital choice could be included in the U.S. Supreme Court's recent decision that legalized gay marriage across the nation.
The three are seeking a "preliminary and permanent injunction enforcing" the legalization of their "consensual plural family association."
"All I can say is that I have to follow the law, and until the state of Montana changes that law, I have to follow it," Boelter said Thursday when asked for a comment about the lawsuit.
Fox, Bullock, and Twito could not be reached for comment on Thursday.
In July, Deputy Yellowstone County Attorney Kevin Gillen said in a letter following their attempt to obtain a marriage license that the Collier's "reliance on the recent United States Supreme Court ruling on same sex marriage is misplaced."
The clerk's office had denied the request and sought legal advice from the Yellowstone County Attorney's Office.
In the letter, Gillen references the Marriage Equality Act, stating: "There is nothing in that ruling that describes the arrangement you seek to establish. Throughout the ruling, the majority opinion references marriage between two people. That ruling did not expand the number of persons involved in a marriage; the ruling only acknowledged fundamental rights of a person who wishes to marry another person."
The crux of the denial by Gillen was two-fold: Polygamous unions are illegal in Montana, and marriage is meant to be honored between two people.
"We're just wanting to be a family. We just want the same rights that everybody else has," Vicki said after receiving the letter. "Marriage equality means marriage equality."
The lawsuit states that Vicki and Nathan Collier were legally married on April 29, 2000, and remain married.
Christine, whose last name is also listed in the documents as Parkinson, would like to enter into a separate marriage with Nathan Collier.
Montana law states that polygamy, or marriage to more than one person at the same time, is a misdemeanor offense.
If convicted of bigamy, a person could be fined up to $500 or be imprisoned for up to 6 months.
The Colliers say their relationship is founded on "polygyny," which the lawsuit states is a union in which the "women are spiritually married to one man, but none of the women are spiritually married to one another."
They state that plural families in Montana cover a wide range of religious and non-religious relationships, which include polyandry and other forms of group marriage.
"I am not looking to marry Vicki," Christine said last month. "She is my sister. She is, in every way possible, my crutch. She's my helpmate when it comes to providing for our family. I am looking to legalize and marry my husband."
The Colliers said they have hidden the polygamous relationship for years, fearing Montana's criminal bigamy laws and public backlash. The family has eight children from past and present relationships.
The trio said that they have no interest in how marriage looks for anyone else. Rather, they are focused internally on their own family unit.
"We're not trying to redefine what marriage is to anybody else. We're only defining what marriage is to us," Collier previously said. "This is our family."