The Montana Constitution guarantees that all people, including gay and lesbian couples, should be treated equally and fairly. Those are values that Montanans hold dear. People should be treated with dignity and allowed to live their lives freely.
Though the court denied the plaintiffs' initial appeal as too broad, the justices said the ACLU could move forward with more narrowly tailored efforts to secure equal treatment for same-sex couples in the state.
The ACLU and plaintiffs, six loving, committed same-sex couples plan to move forward with efforts to secure legal recognition for their relationships in light of a Montana Supreme Court decision, which in part granted plaintiffs' appeal in Donaldson and Guggenheim v. State of Montana from a dismissal of the case by the district court.
"Three of the justices said they would have granted same-sex couples recognition as domestic partners now. The majority also made clear that the decision to remand the case for additional proceedings in the lower court was based on technical issues, not on the substance of our argument that the Montana Constitution mandates equal treatment of all people," said ACLU of Montana Legal Director Jon Ellingson. "They said that while we could not challenge the omission of same-sex couples from all of the statutes involving the rights of married couples in one case, we can challenge those statutes individually. We plan to do just that."
The opinion states: "It is this Court's opinion that Plaintiffs should be given the opportunity, if they choose to take it, to amend the complaint and to refine and specify the general constitutional challenges they have proffered."
"We're encouraged by the decision because the justices said that we could pursue the protections we are seeking," said Mary Leslie, who lives with her partner, Stacey Haugland in Bozeman. "Legal protection is essential, not just for our families, but for all same-sex couples. We won't stop until every loving couple is treated fairly." Leslie lost her home because she was ineligible for worker's compensation death benefits when her partner was killed in an accident. Another plaintiff, Denise Boettcher of Laurel, was denied bereavement leave when her partner Kellie Gibson's father died.
In his dissent from the majority, Justice James Nelson wrote that same-sex couples should be given full protection now, saying the case, "concerns the right of committed intimate same-sex couples to receive the same civil protections which the State makes available to committed intimate different-sex couples. Plaintiffs assert, and rightly so, that their government may not single out unpopular groups for disfavored treatment, as the State of Montana has done here... I have never disagreed more strongly with the Court as I do in this case. With due respect, I believe today's decision... wrongly deprives an abused minority their civil rights."
Close to 1,500 Montanans and more than 100 Montana-owned businesses have signed on in support of domestic partnerships, and more are signing on each day. Sixty-six Montana religious leaders signed onto an amicus brief supporting the ACLU's appeal. Even more clergy signed a statement supporting the rights of same-sex couples.
"Montanans believe all their neighbors deserve dignity and respect," said Rev. Marc Stewart, a Montana/Northern Wyoming United Church of Christ Conference Minister. "We believe that loving, committed couples should be able to fully live their own lives and have the protection of the state."
Plaintiffs in the case 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 and Denise Boettcher and Kellie Gibson of Laurel. All say they will continue working with the ACLU to pursue legal recognition of their lifelong commitments to each other.
In addition to Ellingson, the couples are represented by Elizabeth Gill, a staff attorney with the ACLU's Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Project; James Goetz and Ben Alke of Goetz, Gallik & Baldwin P.C.; Betsy Griffing; and Ruth Borenstein and Neil Perry of the law firm Morrison & Foerster LLP.
Couples in the suit live and support their families in communities across the state, including Basin, Bozeman, Butte, Helena and Laurel.
In September 2010, the Bozeman City Commission unanimously passed a resolution supporting our couples and our lawsuit. Thank you, Bozeman!
Jim Goetz argues our case in Montana District Court on Jan. 25, 2011.
More information:Questions and answers
Amicus curaie brief by Montana Religious Leaders
Amicus brief from American Psychological Association
Amicus brief from Legal Voice and Montana Human Rights Network
Amicus brief from Gary J. Gates and M. V. Lee Badgett
Motion for Summary Judgment -- Dec. 10, 2010
January 25, 2011 press release.
Brief in support of Motion for Summary Judgment
Affidavit of Suzanne D. Dixon
Affidavit of George Chauncey
Affidavit of Anne Peplau
Affidavit of Christine Kaufman
State combined reply for motion to dismiss and opposing summary judgment
Plaintiffs reply in support of motion for summary judgment
Read the original complaint.