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ACLU appeals same-sex domestic partnership case to Montana high court

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website] appealed [press release] a case over same-sex domestic partnerships Thursday to the the Montana Supreme Court [official website], arguing that denying partnership rights to same-sex couples violates the state constitution [text, PDF]. The ACLU filed a notice of appeal [text, PDF] in Donaldson and Guggenheim v. State of Montana [ACLU backgrounder] with the court on behalf of six same-sex couples. The ACLU argues that Montana's failure to provide any legal recognition of same-sex couples violates the state constitution's protection of privacy, dignity, the pursuit of life's basic necessities and its guarantees of equal protection and due process. The ACLU says on its case page, "[t]he goal of this lawsuit is to see that same-sex couples are able to protect their families with the same kind of legal protections that the State offers to different-sex couples through marriage." Yet, the ACLU said it is not arguing for marriage equality in this lawsuit since Montana has a constitutional amendment banning it. A Montana judge dismissed the lawsuit [JURIST report] last April. The ACLU argued 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.

There is growing support for full marriage equality for same-sex couples as New York [JURIST report] became the most recent state to legalize same-sex marriage [JURIST news archive] in June, joining Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont, New Hampshire and the District of Columbia, as well as the Suquamish and Coquille American Indian tribes [JURIST reports]. However, same-sex marriage continues to be a controversial and divisive issue through the US, despite a recent poll [materials] suggesting support for legalization is growing. In May, Minnesota approved [JURIST report] a referendum amending the state's constitution to ban same-sex marriage. Also, in April, the Indiana Senate [official website] overwhelmingly approved [JURIST report] a state constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage or any "substantially similar" status, while the Wyoming Senate [official website] in February approved a bill that would void in Wyoming any same-sex marriages or civil unions [JURIST report] performed in other jurisdictions.

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