ACLU sues Montana for recognition of same-sex civil unions

[JURIST] The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website] filed a lawsuit [complaint, PDF] Thursday seeking to force Montana to provide legal status to same-sex relationships. The lawsuit, filed in Montana's First Judicial District Court [official website] on behalf of seven same-sex couples, seeks declaratory judgment that the state must provide a legal status to same-sex couples that confers the same rights and obligations as marriage. The complaint argues that, in not providing a legal status to committed same-sex relationships, the state has violated the plaintiffs' rights under the Montana Constitution [text]. The lawsuit does not argue for same-sex marriage, which is banned under the state constitution, but argues that the court should order the state to provide same-sex couples with civil unions [JURIST news archives]. The ACLU argues that the state is discriminating against the plaintiffs based on their sexual orientation and that this situation unconstitutionally burdens the plaintiffs' rights to privacy, dignity and the pursuit of life's basic necessities, in addition to violating their state due process rights. The rights group noted that state and local laws provide some limited rights and obligations to same-sex couples, but deny them a plethora of benefits that are available to opposite-sex couples, including burial rights, hospital visitation rights, intestacy rights and the ability to sue for the wrongful death of a spouse. The complaint explained:

By excluding Plaintiffs and their families from the kind of comprehensive relationship and family recognition and protection offered to different-sex couples through marriage, the State perpetuates the social stigma and prejudice long-suffered by lesbian, gay, and bisexual individuals in Montana, that they and their relationships are inferior to heterosexual individuals and heterosexual relationships. This exclusion also encourages discrimination against lesbian, gay, and bisexual Montanans, by both public and private actors. As described above, Plaintiffs suffer distinct dignitary harms when they are forced to plead for recognition of their committed relationship, which is automatically granted to different-sex couples who marry.
The ACLU also argued that the policy was not rational or narrowly tailored to achieve legitimate state goals.

Earlier this month, Hawaii Governor Linda Lingle (R) [official website] vetoed a bill [JURIST report] that would have allowed same-sex civil unions. The American Civil Liberties Union-Hawaii (ACLU-HI) [advocacy website], indicated it would be filing a lawsuit [press release] challenging the state's ban on same-sex civil unions as a violation of the Hawaiian Constitution [text] prohibition against discrimination based on sexual orientation. Several jurisdictions in the US have legalized same-sex marriage or recognized same-sex civil unions. Same-sex civil unions that confer the same rights as marriage are currently recognized in Washington, New Jersey, Oregon and Nevada [JURIST reports]. In March, DC legalized same-sex marriage, joining Vermont, New Hampshire, Iowa, Connecticut and Massachusetts [JURIST reports].

 

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