ACLU Sues Montana Seeking Domestic Partnerships

Seven same-sex couples, represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, have sued the state of Montana for the lack of equal relationship recognition. In a first-of-its-kind twist, however, the state-court lawsuit is not seeking equal marriage rights for the same-sex couple plaintiffs.

Instead, the couples are ask the court to require officials in Montana — which has a state constitutional amendment prohibiting recognition of same-sex marriages — to offer “a legal status and statutory structure that confers the protections and obligations that the State provides to different-sex couples who marry, but not the status or designation of marriage.”

The key paragraphs in the Complaint, which was filed today, lay out the alleged violations of the state’s constitutional protections:

All Montanans, including Plaintiffs, are guaranteed the right to equal protection of the law under Article II, Section 4 of the Montana Constitution. The categorical exclusion of Montanans such as Plaintiffs from the protections and obligations afforded similarly-situated different-sex couples who have the opportunity to marry deprives Plaintiffs and their families of equal protection under the law in that the exclusion constitutes unconstitutional discrimination based on sexual orientation and unconstitutionally burdens the Plaintiffs’ fundamental rights to privacy, dignity, and the pursuit of life’s basic necessities.

The exclusion of Plaintiffs from any legally recognized and protected same-sex relationship and family status violates the fundamental rights of same-sex couples, including Plaintiffs, by burdening and interfering with their rights to privacy, dignity, and the pursuit of life’s basic necessities, which are guaranteed under Article II, Sections 10, 4, and 3 of the Montana Constitution, respectively.

The exclusion of Plaintiffs from any legally recognized and protected same-sex relationship and family status is arbitrary and therefore denies Plaintiffs’ right to due process in violation of Arlicle II, Section 17 of the Montana Constitution.

The couples are represented by Betsy Griffing, legal director for the ACLU of Montana; Elizabeth Gill, staff attorney with the ACLU Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Project; James Goetz and Ben Alke of the Bozeman, MT, law firm Goetz, Gallik & Baldwin P.C.; and Ruth Borenstein, Philip Besirof and Neil Perry of the California law firm Morrison & Foerster LLP.

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