Montana judge dismisses same-sex marriage lawsuit

[JURIST] A Montana judge has dismissed a lawsuit [judgment, PDF] that had called for the state to provide legal status to same-sex relationships. The lawsuit, filed in July [JURIST report] by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website] in Montana's First Judicial District Court [official website] on behalf of seven same-sex couples, had alleged that the state has limited the couples' decision-making powers regarding their health care and finances and had sought for the state to provide a legal status to same-sex couples [case materials] that would confer the same rights and obligations as marriage. Montana Attorney General Steve Bullock [official profile] in November moved to dismiss [JURIST report] the lawsuit, arguing that the plaintiffs were not failing to receive protections because they were gay, but because they were not legally married, and that they received the same rights as all other non-married Montanans. District Judge Jeffrey Sherlock said Tuesday that, while he was sympathetic to the personal experiences of the plaintiffs, it is the role of the legislature to change state law:

This Court, in the past, has been willing to exercise its judicial power when it found a violation of the Montana Constitution as it related to a specific statute applying to gay people. ... However, what Plaintiffs want here is not a declaration of the unconstitutionality of a specific statute or set of statutes, but rather a direction to the legislature to enact a statutory arrangement. This Court finds Plaintiffs' proposal, although appealing, to be unprecedented and uncharted in Montana law.
Sherlock added that a ruling in favor the plaintiffs would have violated a voter-approved amendment to the Montana Constitution [text, PDF] that defined marriage as between a man and woman. The ACLU, which argues that the same-sex couples should receive equal rights as opposite-sex couples under the equal protection clause of the state constitution, has 60 days to appeal the decision.

Other states continue to debate the legality of same-sex marriage [JURIST news archive]. Earlier this month, the Indiana Senate [official website] overwhelmingly approved [JURIST report] an amendment to the state constitution that would ban same-sex marriage or any "substantially similar" status, and the Wyoming Senate [official website] in February approved a bill that would void in Wyoming any same-sex marriages and civil unions [JURIST report] performed in other jurisdictions. Also in February, Hawaii Governor Neil Abercrombie signed a same-sex civil unions bill into law [JURIST report]. Same-sex marriage is currently legal in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont, New Hampshire and Washington, DC [JURIST reports].

 

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