D Gregory Smith

Domestic Partnerships: Montana Tries Another Door

Filed By D Gregory Smith | November 15, 2011 3:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Marriage Equality, Politics
Tags: domestic partnership, lawsuits, legal, Lesbian, marriage equality, Montana

MTlawsuitcouples.jpgIn light of the District Court dismissal of the same-sex domestic partnership case Donaldson and Guggenheim vs The State Of Montana in April, The Montana ACLU has filed an appeal to the Montana Supreme Court.

The Montana Constitution guarantees fair and equal treatment to all people - and that includes those in same-sex relationships, the appeal argues. Even though Montana is also one of several states that have a constitutional amendment which defines marriage as between one man and one woman, the plaintiffs are hoping that "fair and equal treatment" will trump the marriage definition.

As Niki Zupanic, Public Policy Director for the Montana ACLU told me today:

Montana's Constitution is clear. Everyone is guaranteed equal protection under the law. When our plaintiffs are being denied bereavement leave, access to medical information and death benefits they are not being treated fairly under the law. Montanans support treating same-sex couples fairly and providing them with the legal recognition they need to care for and protect their families. The Montana Supreme Court is the place where we can make that happen for Montana's same-sex couples.

The decision to go to the Supreme Court just makes sense. The Montana Constitution has an obvious discrepancy here. Fair and equal treatment of persons can't be applied arbitrarily - it has to apply across the board - and that includes people in same-sex relationships. Judge Sherlock did not rule on the constitutionality question in April, only that he couldn't order the legislature to make any changes. The Supreme Court is the next logical step to clarify this issue.

Hopefully, it will clarify in favor of gay and lesbian relationship recognition, and not against.

But in any case, the ACLU - and the couples they represent - are moving forward.

"This case is about treating people fairly and humanely," said plaintiff Jan Donaldson, a Helena nurse who has been with her partner, pediatric neurologist Mary Anne Guggenheim, for 27 years. "Mary Anne and I have appreciated the support we've received from fellow Montanans who understand that all families need to be able to take care of each other. We just want the dignity of having our committed partnership recognized as worthy of those legal protections."

U.S. Census numbers released over the summer show 2,295 Montana same-sex households. Without recognition of domestic partnerships, these couples are vulnerable when they need bereavement leave, face the illness or death of their partner or are presented with any other situation in which their lack of legally recognized status puts them in a position where a married husband or wife would be protected.

"Anyone who works and pays taxes should be treated equally and fairly by our state. When two people are in a committed relationship, they should be eligible for benefits, like filing a joint tax return, regardless of whether they are a same-sex couple or a different-sex couple," said Jennifer Giuttari, interim legal director for the ACLU of Montana.

Plaintiffs in the case Donaldson and Guggenheim v. State of Montana (pictured above) are Mary Anne Guggenheim and Jan Donaldson of Helena, Stacey Haugland and Mary Leslie of Bozeman, Mike Long and Rich Parker of Bozeman, MJ Williams and Nancy Owens of Basin, Rick Wagner and Gary Stallings of Butte and Denise Boettcher and Kellie Gibson of Laurel.


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Good luck on your appeal, ACLU.