In Donaldson and Guggenheim v. State of Montana, the American Civil Liberties Union of Montana represented six same-sex couples who are in committed relationships and needed access to the legal protections Montana provides families of different-sex couples, many of which are designed to help see families through times of crisis. These couples brought a lawsuit charging that the State’s failure to provide legal protections to same-sex couples was a violation of the Montana Constitution’s promises of privacy, dignity and the pursuit of life’s basic necessities and its equal protection and due process guarantees. The goal of this lawsuit was to see that same-sex couples were able to protect their families with the same legal protections that different-sex couples are offered through marriage. This case preceded the Rolando vs Fox litigation.
Although there is a constitutional amendment in Montana stating that “only a marriage between one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in this state” and bars marriage for same-sex couples, it in no way precluded the state from providing other forms of recognition for same-sex couples. In fact, most of the state’s constitution is devoted to making sure that everyone is treated fairly, not taking rights away. We believed these constitutional guarantees would ultimately lead the Montana courts to find that it was unconstitutional for the state to deny same-sex couples protections for their families.
All Montana Families Deserve Protections
This lawsuit, which is being brought in state court and is making state constitutional claims, only directly addresses protections under state law. Under current Montana law, it is possible for same-sex couples to be barred from visiting their partners in the hospital and left out of conversations about emergency medical care. Montana inheritance laws refuse to recognize same-sex couples, leaving surviving partners with nothing if their partners die without valid wills. Similarly, it is possible for surviving partners to be barred from making funeral arrangements. It is these protections, however, that grant married couples some of their most important safeguards during times of greatest need.
Montana families need these protections. Each of the plaintiff couples have experienced harm from being denied these basic rights.
Truth in Progress Video: Introduction The first video installment from the hearing of Donaldson v. State of MT before the Montana Supreme Court on Friday, April 13, 2012. Anthony Johnstone of the University of Montana Law School introduced the arguments in the case prior to the Court convening.
Truth in Progress Video: Marriage Amendment vs Domestic Partners The second installment from the Donaldson V State of MT Supreme Court hearing asking if Montana’s Marriage Amendment precludes rights for same-sex couples as domestic partners?
Truth in Progress Video: Meet the Plaintiffs The third installment of the Montana Supreme Court hearing for Donaldson. James Goetz, attorney for the plaintiffs, introduces the couples.
Truth in Progress Video: How can we ask couples to go case by case? The fourth installment from the Donaldson v State of Montana Supreme Court hearing. James Goetz introduces Mary Leslie, a plaintiff, and shares her heartbreaking story.
Truth in Progress Video: At the core of the hearing: Are committed same sex couples guaranteed equal protection under the law? In this clip (the fifth installment from the Donaldson v State of Montana case), James Goetz, attorney for the plaintiffs and ACLU of Montana, and Mike Black, state’s attorney, argue before the court the question of whether or not it is legal to discriminate against persons on the basis of sexual orientation. Also addressed is whether or not the court can make a declaratory judgement about the violation of equal protection rather than rule that each specific statutory provision must be dealt with case by case. This would require hundreds of lawsuits brought by and at the expense of same sex couples.
Truth in Progress Video: What is left to the meaning of “marriage” if the Court grants relief to same sex domestic partners? In the latest installment from the Donaldson v State of Montana case, the court asks James Goetz if granting domestic partnerships relegates the word “marriage’ to just a symbol. James Goetz makes the case for why it’s different.