It seems hard to believe that it’s been a year since we won marriage for Montana.
In 2010, marriage for same sex couples in Montana looked like a long way off. With no statewide protections for LGBT persons and an unconstitutional law on the books that made intimate contact between two persons of the same gender a felony, Montana was not considered an ideal environment for a challenge to the marriage amendment. And only four years later, who would guess that we would win marriage equality in the state of Montana?
On the first day of marriage one year ago, ACLU of Montana facilitated weddings in courthouses in six cities across the state. Watching couples who in some cases had been waiting decades to wed or conversely never thought they would see the day in their lifetimes was a monumental source of joy and accomplishment.
Couples like Kellie Gibson and Denise Boettcher, plaintiffs in our Donaldson case, waited to marry in their home state instead of going somewhere that had marriage equality earlier. “We wanted to get married in our own town, in our own church, with our family and community supporting us,” Kellie said after the two wed in a ceremony in Billings this summer.
Greg Smith, an Episcopal priest in Bozeman and a long time HIV/AIDS advocate, also wanted to marry Ken, his partner of many years, in their church. Faith has always been a crucial part of who Greg is and according to Greg, “It meant the world to me to get married in my church- by a bishop!” Greg and Ken were married this summer in Bozeman and invited Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson to officiate. Greg met Bishop Robinson, the first openly gay Episcopal priest to be ordained in the Episcopal church, during the Fair is Fair tour in 2013. (photo of Smith wedding with caption “Greg Smith and Ken Spencer were wed by Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson in a private ceremony in Bozeman )
When Angie and Tonya Rolando became plaintiffs in the Rolando case, they had already been together for years and were raising a family together. But getting legally married was still something that was important to them. They were the first in line to receive their marriage license from the very same clerk that had been required to deny them a license only a few months before. After months of intense planning, the wedding of the two lovely brides affirmed the exchange of rings and private vows they had made privately to each other years before as well as commit them in the eyes of the law.
Yet, the marriage decision goes beyond just the legal recognition of their relationship.
Representative Bryce Bennett of Missoula remembers, "When the ruling came down that Montana would join the growing number of states with full marriage equality it felt unbelievable. It was just ten years prior that an overwhelming majority of Montanans voted to ban same-sex marriage. But today, two people in love can have that bond recognized by this state we call home. It is victories like this give me hope and the determination to continue the critical work to end discrimination, provide trans-inclusive healthcare, and ensure our schools are safe for all our students."
If the work for LGBTQ equality in the state is a journey, then Montana still has miles to go before LGBTQ Montanans have full protections. We need statewide protections that cover more than the four cities with nondiscrimination ordinances. Montanans living in cities without NDOs or in rural spaces should not be denied housing, employment or access to public accommodations because they are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. Businesses and public spaces need to be responsible for serving everyone and not exempted based on religious beliefs. Schools need inclusive protections for all students. Healthcare should be available to all regardless of their gender identity or sexual orientation.
ACLU of Montana remains committed to full equality for all LGBTQ citizens in Montana.
Now who wants some wedding cake?