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Montana

Montana Supreme Court rejects equal benefits for same-sex couples

Monday, December 17, 2012

HELENA, Mont. — The Montana Supreme Court on Monday upheld a lower court’s decision to reject an “overly broad” request that same-sex couples receive the same protections and benefits as married heterosexual couples.

In a 4-3 decision, the Court sided with Helena, Mont., District Judge Jeffrey Sherlock when he dismissed the suit in April 2011.

Sherlock had ruled that, based in part on a 2004 voter-approved amendment that defined marriage in Montana as between a man and a woman, spousal benefits in the state are limited by definition to opposite sex married couples.

On Monday, a majority of the state’s high court upheld that decision, reported The Missoulian.

The court wrote that the gay couples want the court to intervene “without identifying a specific statute or statutes that impose the discrimination they allege.”

But the high court also said the legal complaint can be changed and re-filed with the lower court if it specifically cites state laws that are unconstitutional.

“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,” Montana Supreme Court chief justice Mike McGrath wrote for the majority.

The suit, filed in July 2010 by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on behalf of seven gay couples in Montana, said the state failed to offer legal protections to same-sex couples and their families.

“We are on the right side of history here. This is a discrimination case. In other civil rights cases people have not given up, and we won’t,” said James Goetz, an attorney for the couples. “There is just no question, and the court did not hold otherwise, that these statutes are discriminatory. If we have to go back step by step and prove it statute by statute, that is what we will do.”

Writing in dissent, State Supreme Court Justice James Nelson, pointed out that Montana’s marriage amendment itself unconstitutionally conflicts with fundamental rights, stating that he believes the marriage amendment was a religious-based attack meant to demean homosexuals.

“Indeed, a not-too-distant generation of Montanans will consign today’s decision, the marriage amendment, and the underlying intolerance to the dustbin of history and to the status of a meaningless, shameful, artifact,” wrote Nelson.

Anti-gay advocates however were pleased by today’s ruling.

“The people of Montana believed in traditional marriage when they passed the Montana marriage amendment, and they’re not willing to consider any laws that will weaken marriage,” said Jeff Laszloffy, president of the Montana Family Foundation and author of the marriage amendment.

Among the rights the couples were seeking included inheritance rights, and the ability to make burial decisions and receive workers compensation death benefits; the right to file joint tax returns, claim spousal tax exemptions or take property tax benefits; the right to make health care decisions, and legal protection in cases of separation and divorce, including children’s custody and support.

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24 more reader comments:

  1. Now LGBTI Montanans should DiSREGARD this heterosupremacist aparhteid ruling and TAKE their rights

    Posted on Monday, December 17, 2012 at 7:45pm
  2. No one follows the constitution. If people in law did, gay marriage would be legal in red states and religion wouldn’t be used as an excuse to make inane decisions like this that help no one. Instead, it is based on personal opinion/bigotry.

    Posted on Monday, December 17, 2012 at 7:46pm
  3. Well, clearly Montana is NOT the place for our people!

    Posted on Monday, December 17, 2012 at 7:48pm
  4. this is just saying that the gay community is not good / equal to have equal rights just as the others. we are all one and should be treated as one

    Posted on Monday, December 17, 2012 at 7:49pm
  5. Boo Montana. c’mon and get with the times.

    Posted on Monday, December 17, 2012 at 7:50pm
  6. We’ll take it back soon

    Posted on Monday, December 17, 2012 at 7:50pm
  7. It didn’t have quite the negative reading to it that the local newspaper gave. Here is the press release info from ACLU of Montana and Fair is Fair Montana: http://www.aclumontana.org/component/content/article/24/605-domestic-partnership-decision

    Posted on Monday, December 17, 2012 at 7:51pm
  8. The Supreme Court actually gave us a roadmap to proceed.

    Posted on Monday, December 17, 2012 at 7:51pm
  9. Never give up!

    Posted on Monday, December 17, 2012 at 7:54pm
  10. i guess there’s doesn’t include “all men are created equal.” Not until these staunch disgusting reds die out and make room for justice to be served.

    Posted on Monday, December 17, 2012 at 7:58pm
  11. Typical of Republican controlled states.

    Posted on Monday, December 17, 2012 at 7:59pm
  12. Still planning on moving to Whitefish in Spring.

    Posted on Monday, December 17, 2012 at 8:00pm
  13. Montana is still a state?

    Posted on Monday, December 17, 2012 at 8:01pm
  14. same bullshit!! work, pay taxes and still don’t have the same rights and entitlements as the str8s ! Keep fighting Montana!

    Posted on Monday, December 17, 2012 at 8:05pm
  15. Who cares, by June the US Supreme Court will legalize same-marriage nationwide. This invalidating this ruling. Let them enjoy their hate while they can.

    Posted on Monday, December 17, 2012 at 8:06pm
  16. Big mistake on their part.

    Posted on Monday, December 17, 2012 at 8:07pm
  17. These people would discriminate against their mothers for developing mustache after menopause.

    Posted on Monday, December 17, 2012 at 8:29pm
  18. Ahead two steps, back one. Keep up the fight!

    Posted on Monday, December 17, 2012 at 8:54pm
  19. Of course they did. This is another state that i will not be visiting or moving to anytime soon.

    Posted on Monday, December 17, 2012 at 8:58pm
  20. This is sad

    Posted on Monday, December 17, 2012 at 9:03pm
  21. wait and see when we get our equality they will have no choice but to give us equal benefits

    Posted on Monday, December 17, 2012 at 9:16pm
  22. not gonna happen Montana is full bigots and white trash

    Posted on Monday, December 17, 2012 at 9:42pm
  23. :~{

    Posted on Monday, December 17, 2012 at 10:17pm
  24. A long way to go there before same sex couples get the rights they deserve.

    Posted on Tuesday, December 18, 2012 at 1:03pm