[JURIST] A judge for the US District Court for the District of Montana [official website] ruled [order] Wednesday Montana’s ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional because it violates the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. In the order US District Court Judge Brian Morris stated that Montana was the last state in the Ninth Circuit to prohibit same-sex marriage and also the only remaining state in the circuit refusing to recognize same-sex marriage from other states. The court reasoned that the same-sex marriage ban discriminates on the basis of sexual orientation and that sexual orientation meets a standard for applying a heightened scrutiny in evaluating the constitutionality of the law. Additionally the court said that the state failed to prove justification for discriminating against same-sex couples. The court addressed a need to protect constitutional rights, stating:
This Court recognizes that not everyone will celebrate this outcome. This decision overturns a Montana Constitutional amendment approved by the voters of Montana. Yet the United States Constitution exists to protect disfavored minorities from the will of the majority. … Our constitutional tradition does not permit laws to single out a certain class of citizens for “disfavored legal status.”
Montana residents voted on the same-sex marriage ban, and it was added as an amendment to the Montana constitution in 2004.
With the US Supreme Court’s refusal to block same-sex marriage in South Carolina Thursday, same-sex marriage [JURIST backgrounder] is now legal in 35 US states. Earlier this month the US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit upheld same-sex marriage bans [JURIST report] in four states, creating a split in the circuits as the US Courts of Appeals for the Fourth, Seventh, Ninth and Tenth Circuits [JURIST reports] have ruled same-sex marriage bans unconstitutional. Last month the Supreme Court declined to hear [JURIST report] seven pending same-sex marriage cases, allowing those appeals court rulings to stand and effectively legalizing same-sex marriage in several states, but the issue is once again before the court [JURIST report] following the Sixth Circuit ruling.