The ACLU announced today that it is filing a lawsuit against the state of Montana on behalf of same-sex couples who have been denied the same legal protections as opposite-sex couples.
The plaintiffs of the case Donaldson and Guggenheim v. State of Montana consists of seven committed same-sex couples.
In 2004, voters in Montana approved an amendment to their state constitution that banned the recognition of same-sex marriage.
The plaintiffs of this case are not seeking the ability to become legally married and are not challenging the amendment.
Instead, they hope the lawsuit will grant them the protection of state-recognized domestic partnerships, similar to those in place in several other states. Under current Montana law, same-sex couples can be barred from visiting their partners in the hospital, left out of conversations about emergency medical care, and denied inheritance if their partner dies without a valid will. Opposite-sex couples, in contrast, are automatically safeguarded from these events by Montana law.
"It's unfair for same-sex couples who have made commitments and formed families to be treated by the state like legal strangers," said Betsy Griffing, the Legal Director for the ACLU of Montana. "Lesbian, gay and bisexual Montanans are valuable and productive members of society who should be treated fairly if their partner is in the hospital or dies without a will."
The couples claim that the same-sex marriage ban and absence of same-sex civil unions violates their rights of privacy, dignity, and pursuit of life's basic necessities - all rights guaranteed to the citizens of Montana through its constitution. They also claim the ban violates the state's guarantee of equal protection and due process.
"We depend on one another, all aspects of our life together," said Jan Donaldson, a nurse and plaintiff of the case. "We want to be able to do that with grace and dignity and to feel secure that our relationship will be respected. We want our relationship to be recognized for what it clearly is - a loving commitment of responsibility worthy of security and protection by the state."
Another female plaintiff, Kellie Gibson, remarked that her long-time partner "had stood with me through 56 brain surgeries and over 300 spinal taps, yet to Montana we're nothing more than strangers. Knowing we have legal protections for our family sure would make it easier on both of us the next time I have a medical crisis."
The Republican Party of Montana has taken a strong stance against homosexuality, stating in their party platform that, "we support the clear will of the people of Montana expressed by legislation to keep homosexual acts illegal."
The suit comes after a U.S. district judge in Boston, Massachusetts declared that a nation-wide ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional because it prohibits individual states from defining what marriage is and is not.
In addition, earlier this month, a gay rights group argued on the winning side of court ruling declaring the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional.
With additional reporting by RAW STORY