National Marriage Equality Victory
United States Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Same-Sex Couples
WASHINGTON –The U.S. Supreme Court today issued a sweeping and historic decision that affords gay and lesbian couples the same legal right to marry and recognition of their marriages as different-sex couples. The ruling invalidates discriminatory laws in Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee upheld by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, and as a practical matter, requires all 50 states to allow same-sex couples to marry.
“The Supreme Court today welcomed same-sex couples fully into the American family. Gay and lesbian couples and our families may be at peace knowing that our simple request to be treated like everyone else – that is, to be able to participate in the dignity of marriage – has finally been granted,” said James Esseks, director of the ACLU’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and HIV Project. “Today’s historic victory comes on the backs of same-sex couples and advocates who have worked for decades to dismantle harmful stereotypes and unjust laws in the quest for equal treatment.”
The court’s 5-4 opinion holds that state marriage bans violate the due process and equal protection provisions of the U.S. Constitution. Recognizing that “marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death,” the Court held that the Constitution grants to same-sex couples the right to “equal dignity in the eyes of the law.”
"Today's decision has been 50 years in the making and will stand with Brown vs. Board of Education as one of the landmark civil rights moments of our time," said Anthony D. Romero, ACLU Executive Director. "Now we take the battle for full legal equality to the states, where 31 states have yet to pass any statewide LGBT non-discrimination laws. The wind is at our backs, and we are now on the cusp of achieving full legal equality for LGBT Americans across the country."
The case is captioned Obergefell v. Hodges and is made up of cases from Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee. The American Civil Liberties Union represented plaintiffs in Kentucky cases Bourke v. Beshear and Love v. Beshear and in Ohio case Obergefell, et al. v. Hodges with private firms.
The Supreme Court’s decision supports an earlier victory in ACLU of Montana’s Rolando v. Fox case, which recognized Montana couples’ right to marry. Last November, following the Ninth Circuit Court’s unanimous opinion that Idaho and Nevada’s bans on marriage for same-sex couples were unconstitutional, District Court Judge Brian Morris ruled that Montana’s constitutional amendment limiting marriage to between a man and a woman violates the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution.
Couples in the ACLU’s lawsuit challenging Montana’s marriage amendment are Angie and Tonya Rolando of Great Falls, Shauna and Nicole Goubeaux of Billings, Ben Milano and Chase Weinhandl of Bozeman and Sue Hawthorne and Adel Johnson of Helena. In addition, the ACLU also represents six couples in an earlier lawsuit seeking domestic partnership recognition. The plaintiff couples in that 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, and Denise Boettcher and Kellie Gibson of Laurel.
“We married for love and are committed to each other after 18 years and counting,” say ACLU of Montana plaintiffs Sue Hawthorne and Adel Johnson. “This positive outcome will further safeguard and protect our family and will allow everyone to have the same benefits and protections. We are honored to be part of this historical moment.”
"We rejoice today with the entire LGBT community and our allies, here in Montana and nationwide,” say Jan Donaldson and Mary Anne Guggenheim, plaintiffs in the ACLU’s domestic partnership lawsuit. “This is an important milestone that offers all committed couples the protections and responsibilities of marriage. We are grateful for the work of many people who supported us and loving committed families everywhere."
“The Court’s decision is very much in accord with the fundamental sensibilities of Montanans, and the notion that government should not interfere in the personal lives of people without a good reason” says ACLU of Montana Legal Director Jim Taylor. “And ‘because we always did it that way’ is not a very good reason. The Court has made it clear that equal protection means treating people equally and fairly. I couldn’t be happier for our clients in both the Rolando and the Donaldson cases, and I am extremely grateful for all the cooperating lawyers who have done such great work for our clients. Working with the ACLU LGBT Project, the Goetz firm, and the Morrison and Foerster firm has been a tremendous experience.”
In addition to Taylor, the couples in both cases are represented by Elizabeth Gill, staff attorney with the ACLU Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender Project, Ben Alke and James Goetz of Goetz, Gallik & Baldwin P.C.; and Stuart Plunkett, Ruth Borenstein, Ariel Ruiz, and Emily Regier of the law firm Morrison & Foerster LLP.
“For decades the ACLU has worked in Montana and in states across America to ensure the rights of LGBT people are protected and respected. We’re grateful to be part of this history-making moment,” says ACLU of Montana Executive Director Scott Crichton.
The ACLU of Montana and Big Sky Pride will be co-hosting celebrations tonight in Billings, Bozeman, Butte, Great Falls, Helena, Kalispell and Missoula. Location and event information can be found here.
Additional information about the ACLU of Montana’s relationship recognition cases can be found at www.aclumontana.org.