Montana Same-Sex Couples Sue State for Legal Protections for Their Families

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

Amy Cannata, ACLU of Montana, (406) 459-1114; amyc@aclumontana.org
Robyn Shepherd, ACLU National, (212) 519-7829 or 549-2666; media@aclu.org

Montana Same-Sex Couples Sue State for Legal Protections for Their Families

Seven Couples Seek Equal Protection Mandated Under Montana's Constitution

HELENA, Mont. - Seven
committed same-sex couples today filed a lawsuit against the state of
Montana for failing to provide legal protections to same-sex couples and
their families in violation of the Montana Constitution's rights of
privacy, dignity and the pursuit of life's basic necessities and its
guarantees of equal protection and due process. The goal of this lawsuit
is ensure that same-sex couples are able to protect their families with
the same kind of legal protections that opposite-sex couples are
offered through marriage.

Because there is a constitutional
amendment in Montana barring marriage for same-sex couples, the couples
in the lawsuit are seeking the protection of state-recognized domestic
partnerships, similar to those in place in several other states.

"Mary Anne and I are part of a family
unit, bonded by love and mutual respect and a desire to share in a
close relationship that benefits not only us, as partners, but our wider
family and the entire community," said Jan Donaldson, a Helena nurse,
of her 27-year relationship with her partner, pediatric neurologist Mary
Anne Guggenheim. "We depend on one another, in all aspects of our life
together. 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."

Montana law automatically grants
married opposite-sex couples safeguards upon which they can depend in
times of need. But, under Montana law, it is possible for same-sex
couples to be barred from visiting their partners in the hospital and to
be left out of conversations about emergency medical care. Montana
inheritance laws refuse to recognize same-sex couples, and can leave
surviving partners with nothing if their partners die without valid
wills. Today's lawsuit seeks a mechanism such as the domestic
partnership laws adopted by several other states to provide similar
protections for committed same-sex couples. 

"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, 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."

"Denise has 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," said Kellie Gibson of Laurel, who is raising two children with
her partner Denise Boettcher.

Plaintiffs in the case Donaldson and Guggenheim v. State of Montana
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, Denise Boettcher and Kellie Gibson of Laurel, and Casey Charles
and David Wilson of Missoula.

In addition to Griffing, the couples
are represented by Elizabeth Gill, a staff attorney with the ACLU
Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Project; James Goetz and Ben Alke
of the Bozeman, MT, law firm Goetz, Gallik & Baldwin P.C.; and Ruth
Borenstein, Philip Besirof and Neil Perry of the California law firm
Morrison & Foerster LLP.

Additional information about the case, biographies of the plaintiffs and links to videos of the plaintiffs can be found at www.aclumontana.org and www.aclu.org/mtpartnerships.

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The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) conserves America's original civic values working in courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in the United States by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

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