News (USA)

ACLU files suit in Mont. seeking benefits for same-sex couples

ACLU files suit in Mont. seeking benefits for same-sex couples

HELENA, Mont. — A civil rights organization filed a new lawsuit against the state Monday on behalf of seven gay couples in an attempt to win for them the same benefits that married couples receive in Montana.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Montana filed its amended complaint after the state Supreme Court rejected its first lawsuit in December for being too broad and not identifying specific laws that are discriminatory.

In the amended lawsuit, attorney James Goetz identifies numerous statutes, including laws he says prevent gay couples from receiving financial protections given to police officers and spouses and from designating their partners as beneficiaries for worker’s compensation.

Other laws Goetz cites exclude gay couples from financial protections for surviving spouses, authority over end-of-life decisions, financial protections due to illness or disability and protections from the dissolution of their relationships.

State prosecutors have argued that spousal benefits are limited by definition to married couples.

A 2004 voter-approved amendment to the Montana Constitution defines marriage as between a man and a woman, but the plaintiffs say they are not seeking the right to marry. However, to deny them the same benefits that other couples in committed relationships receive is a violation of their equal protection rights, the lawsuit says.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s June decision striking down a provision of the federal Defense of Marriage Act denying federal benefits to married gay couples was not cited in the new filing, though ACLU officials previously said much of the reasoning used in that case should buoy their arguments.

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