On June 9, Montana Democratic Party delegates voted unanimously to approve a party platform amendment supporting gay and lesbian marriage equality.
"All adults should have the right to legally marry another adult of their choice, regardless of sex or gender," the Democrats' amendment to their 2012 platform states.
Jim Elliott, chair of the Montana Democratic Party, says the party supports same sex marriage because it's the "right thing" to do. "The government shouldn't tell people whether or not they can get married," he says. "Democrats believe people should be treated fairly, and we'll keep working to make sure that happens."
The Montana party joins a recent swell of support for gay and lesbian rights from Democrats across the nation. On May 9, President Barack Obama announced that he supports gay marriage. This past weekend, state Democratic parties in Texas and Pennsylvania also voted to support granting equal marriage rights to gay couples.
Prior to last weekend's vote in Helena, the Montana Democratic Party favored same-sex civil unions. Such partnerships provide a mechanism to receive state rights, but they are typically valid only in the state of residence and do not provide a framework to access federal marriage benefits.
The federal Defense of Marriage Act prohibits gay marriage. However, the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to hear arguments on the constitutionality of DOMA sometime this spring. If the court finds it unconstitutional, or if the U.S. Congress reverses DOMA, married same-sex partners would have access to federal benefits. Couples bound in civil unions would not.
In the wake of the Democratic Party's gay marriage vote, some wonder if the Montana Republican Party will revisit its stance on homosexuality during its convention in Missoula, which kicks off June 14. The Montana Republican Party's platform now calls to re-criminalize homosexual sex.
Montana GOP Chairman Will Deschamps says that it's too early to say if delegates will revisit their stance. "We'll wait and see."
As for the Montana Democratic Party's support for gay marriage, Deschamps sees it as unwise. "The state Democratic Party is railing against the majority of people in the state," he says, pointing to a 2004 constitutional amendment that now defines marriage as a union between one man and one woman. That law passed by 67 percent.
There are a couple of avenues available to make gay marriage a reality in Montana: Voters could reverse the state gay marriage ban through a constitutional initiative. Another path to legalizing such unions is through judicial intervention.