Today, four Montana couples sued to overturn the state’s 2004 constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. The ACLU, on behalf of the same-sex partners, argues in the lawsuit that denying homosexuals the right to marry “cannot be squared with the State’s history or with its culture.”
The plaintiffs—Sue Hawthorne and Adel Johnson of Helena, Ben Milano and Chase Weinhandl of Bozeman, Shauna and Nicole Goubeaux of Billings and Angie and Tonya Rolando of Great Falls—seek to “challenge any and all Montana statutes that refer to marriage as a relationship between a ‘husband’ and ‘wife’ or ‘man’ and ‘woman.’”
Moments after the ACLU filed the lawsuit in federal court, Montana Gov. Steve Bullock expressed support for the plaintiffs. In an email, Bullock wrote, “The time has come for our state to recognize and celebrate—not discriminate against—two people who love one another, are committed to each other, and want to spend their lives together. … We are on the path to greater understanding and equality, and we will all be better for it.”
Bullock’s support constitutes a turnaround from his work as Montana Attorney General, when his office defended the state against a similar lawsuit filed in July 2010 by the ACLU. That lawsuit, Donaldson and Guggenheim v State of Montana, was filed on behalf of six couples and unsuccessfully sought to create a mechanism whereby same-sex partners could receive the same benefits as married people. It did not, however, challenge the state’s prohibition of gay marriage, as the ACLU is now doing.
The current effort is also garnering support from the Montana Democratic Party, which said in a statement released today, “We commend the leadership and bravery of the plaintiffs and we stand with you in the fight for freedom and equality for every Montanan.” Sen. Jon Tester echoed that support this afternoon.
The effort to contest the state's ban comes amidst a wave of successful challenges to similar prohibitions at the state and federal level. That wave started last summer, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled same-sex marriages are entitled to federal recognition. Just two days ago, a federal judge ruled unconstitutional a 2004 Oregon law that defined marriage as being between a man and a woman.