ACLU and same-sex couples sue state for equal protections



The Montana ACLU and seven same-sex couples from across the state filed a lawsuit yesterday in Helena’s First Judicial Court against the state of Montana for failing to offer legal protections to same-sex couples and their families.

The suit, Donaldson and Guggenheim v. State of Montana, claims same sex couples are being denied their rights of privacy, dignity and the pursuit of life’s basic necessities as provided for in the Montana Constitution.

Under Montana law, it is now possible for same-sex couples to be barred from visiting their partners in the hospital and to be left out of conversations about emergency medical care. Montana inheritance laws refuse to recognize same-sex couples, and can leave surviving partners with nothing if their partners die without valid wills. The lawsuit seeks a mechanism such as the domestic partnership laws adopted by several other states to provide similar protections for committed same-sex couples.

“It’s unfair for same-sex couples who have made commitments and formed families to be treated by the state like legal strangers,” said Betsy Griffing, legal director for the ACLU of Montana. “Lesbian, gay and bisexual Montanans are valuable and productive members of society who should be treated fairly if their partner is in the hospital or dies without a will.”

It didn't take long for social conservatives to weigh in on the lawsuit. Jeff Laszloffy, president of the Montana Family Foundation, which, according to its website, aims to promote "pro-family values," issued a response within hours of the ACLU's announcement. He says the nonprofit advocacy organization intends to fight against the creation of additional legal protections for same-sex couples.

"The Montana Family Foundation remains committed to marriage between one man and one woman, and will continue to fight in the courts and in the legislature to see that the wisdom of the majority of Montanans remains the law of the land," according to Laszloffy's statement.

Because there is a constitutional amendment in Montana barring marriage for same-sex couples, the couples participating in the lawsuit are seeking the protection of state-recognized domestic partnerships, rather then "marriage." Domestic partnerships are recognized in several other states such as Vermont, Hawaii, Washington and Oregon.

Plaintiffs in the Montana lawsuit include 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, Denise Boettcher and Kellie Gibson of Laurel, and Casey Charles and David Wilson of Missoula.

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