The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and seven gay couples in Montana filed a lawsuit against the state this week 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.
Because there is a constitutional amendment in Montana barring same-sex marriage, the couples in the lawsuit are seeking the protection of state-recognized domestic partnerships, similar to those in place in several other states.
According to the ACLU, under Montana law, it is 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.
“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.”
The suit seeks a mechanism such as the domestic partnership laws adopted by several other states to provide similar protections for committed same-sex couples.
The plaintiffs (pictured, clockwise from top-left) are: MJ Williams and Nancy Owens of Basin; Denise Boettcher and Kellie Gibson of Laurel; David Wilson and Casey Charles of Missoula; Mary Leslie and Stacey Haugland of Bozeman; Mike Long and Rich Parker of Bozeman; Jan Donaldson and Mary Anne Guggenheim of Helena; and Gary Stallings and Rick Wagner of Butte.