Montana Supreme Court rejects equal benefits for gay couples

2012-12-18T06:00:00Z 2013-01-21T12:34:43Z Montana Supreme Court rejects equal benefits for gay couplesThe Associated Press The Associated Press
December 18, 2012 6:00 am  • 

HELENA – The Montana Supreme Court on Monday rejected an “overly broad” request that gay couples be guaranteed the same benefits as married couples, but left the door open for advocates to modify their case and try again.

The plaintiffs promised to do so, declaring they are “on the right side of history” and will inevitably win.

The court wrote in Monday’s 4-3 decision Monday that a lower court was within its discretion when it earlier dismissed the request.

In that earlier decision, a Helena district court judge dismissed the six couples’ case last year after state prosecutors argued that spousal benefits are limited by definition to married couples. A voter-approved amendment in 2004 defined marriage as between a man and a woman.

District Judge Jeffrey Sherlock based his ruling in part on the state’s marriage amendment, and said that an order to force state lawmakers to write new laws would violate the separation of powers.

The majority justices upheld that decision. The court wrote that the gay couples want the court to intervene “without identifying a specific statute or statutes that impose the discrimination they allege.”

But the high court also said the legal complaint can be changed and re-filed with the lower court if it specifically cites state laws that are unconstitutional.

“It is this Court’s opinion that plaintiffs should be given the opportunity, if they choose to take it, to amend the complaint and to refine and specify the general constitutional challenges they have proffered,” Montana Supreme Court Chief Justice Mike McGrath wrote for the majority.

The advocates said the new legal filings would be coming.

“We are on the right side of history here. This is a discrimination case. In other civil rights cases people have not given up, and we won’t,” said James Goetz, an attorney for the couples. “There is just no question, and the court did not hold otherwise, that these statutes are discriminatory. If we have to go back step by step and prove it statute by statute, that is what we will do.”

He said “people continue to suffer discrimination as the courts move in their deliberative ways.”

***

The advocates argue the legal rights they seek would not be barred by the voter-approved definition of marriage since they are not seeking specifically the right to marry.

One dissenting justice, however, noted the state is citing the marriage amendment in its legal arguments.

And Justice James Nelson, in a lengthy 109-page dissent, wrote that he thinks the marriage amendment itself unconstitutionally conflicts with fundamental rights. He said the marriage amendment was a religious-based attack meant to demean homosexuals.

“But future generations – indeed, most young people today – will not fear, much less honor, the sexual-orientation taboo,” Nelson wrote. “Indeed, a not-too-distant generation of Montanans will consign today’s decision, the marriage amendment, and the underlying intolerance to the dustbin of history and to the status of a meaningless, shameful, artifact.”

Among the rights the couples are asking for in the lawsuit filed in 2010:

• Inheritance rights, and the ability to make burial decisions and receive workers’ compensation death benefits.

• The right to file joint tax returns, claim spousal tax exemptions or take property tax benefits.

• The right to make health care decisions for a spouse when that person cannot.

• Legal protection in cases of separation and divorce, including children’s custody and support.

Social conservatives who oppose granting those rights, and who supported the marriage amendment, lauded the high court for rejecting the request.

“The people of Montana believed in traditional marriage when they passed the Montana marriage amendment, and they’re not willing to consider any laws that will weaken marriage,” said Jeff Laszloffy, president of the Montana Family Foundation and author of the marriage amendment.

The Montana attorney general’s office argued throughout the case that the plaintiffs need to cite specific laws they believe are unconstitutional.

“The majority opinion recognized that orderly resolution of the plaintiff’s claims would require consideration of specific statutes, as is the typical manner in which constitutional challenges to statues are resolved,” Assistant Attorney General Michael Black said in a statement.

The Montana ACLU, involved in the case from the start, said the Supreme Court decision leaves open a path to victory for the advocates. Plaintiffs in the case expressed optimism.

“We’re encouraged by the decision because the justices said that we could pursue the protections we are seeking,” said Mary Leslie, who was unable to apply for death benefits after a partner was killed. “Legal protection is essential, not just for our families, but for all same-sex couples. We won’t stop until every loving couple is treated fairly.”

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(42) Comments

  1. startingover
    Report Abuse
    startingover - December 24, 2012 9:43 am
    Yeah special treatment, like receiving 78% of the pay of their male counterparts doing the exact same job, or the loss of an average of 6% of their pay for each child they have, or the glass ceiling, is that the special treatment you are referring to?
  2. Helen mo
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    Helen mo - December 19, 2012 3:29 pm
    Lol, Dave! I'm a stickler for spelling and had to laugh when I re-read my post!! Ha ha! Good catch! But I agree (I think) with you.... A contract (whether it be a marriage license or something else) with whomever I choose should be good enough legally....although I won't probably choose my liver ;) I may choose someone to "share" my benefits with... We should all be so lucky to have someone we love to share that with.... Thanks for making me smile at myself- needed that ;)
  3. madtaxpayer
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    madtaxpayer - December 19, 2012 12:20 pm
    sorry, but until it is legal for them to marry in this state, they should not have the same rights as married couples. Washington is waiting for you guys, move there.
  4. dave ajou
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    dave ajou - December 19, 2012 9:00 am
    I think it's going a little too far to suggest sharing benefits with your liver. Sorry, I couldn't help myself. My opinion, and this is close to me as my sibling is in this precise situation, is that we should stop being wrapped up in words, definitions and history, and look at accepting a legally binding contract that provides the considerations those of us in "traditional" marriages have. You know, the ones that fail at about a 50% rate. We can stop all the handwringing about designating a hamster, or your golfing buddy as your partner. Once that legal contract is signed the perceived potential abuse will stop. The first time Mrs. Hamster gets herself a sharp attorney and takes down the ex for 50% and alimony, or your golfing buddy ends up with your Titleist irons and the membership at the country club, all of us traditional heterosexuals can rest easy.
  5. Keni
    Report Abuse
    Keni - December 19, 2012 8:06 am
    What's really interesting in this worldwide movement currently going on to legalize same-sex marriages, DonaldM, is the public support around Our Own country that favors it:

    "Public support for same-sex marriage has grown at an increasing pace since the 1990s.[10] In 1996, just 25% of Americans supported legalization. Polls have shown that support is identical among whites and non-whites.[123] Polling trends in 2010 and 2011 showed support for same-sex marriage gaining a majority, although the difference is within the error limit of the analysis.[124] On May 20, 2011, Gallup reported majority support for same-sex marriage for the first time in the country.[125] In June 2011, two prominent polling organizations released an analysis of the changing trend in public opinion about same-sex marriage in the United States, concluding that "public support for the freedom to marry has increased, at an accelerating rate, with most polls showing that a majority of Americans now support full marriage rights for all Americans."

    "In the 2012 elections, state voters for the first time approved same-sex marriage by popular vote, in Maine, Maryland, and Washington."

    It seems, DonnaldM, that the majority of Americans are favoring legalizing same-sex marriages and when approving it by popular vote, they so make antiquated statutes created by a Christian majority fall overnight.

    Pasted from
  6. Hakon Montag
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    Hakon Montag - December 18, 2012 8:27 pm
    For thte most part the government has nothing to do with sharing benefits. Except those benefits derived from government employment. Granted, Montana has it's share of government employees.

    Insurance is not provided by government. It is provided by Insurance companies. Wills and Power of Attorney and other "legal" documents can overcome "most" obstacles in place.

    They just aren't happy with that arrangement. Like the progressive liberal mindset...they have to "change the world".
  7. Keni
    Report Abuse
    Keni - December 18, 2012 8:00 pm
    I might add this to the discussion as well:

    "Same-sex marriage in the United States is recognized in several jurisdictions. As of November 2012, nine states—Connecticut, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Vermont, and Washington—as well as the District of Columbia and two Native American tribes[1]—have legalized same-sex marriage. In addition, Rhode Island recognizes same-sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions,[2][3] and California, which briefly granted same-sex marriages in 2008, now recognizes them on a conditional basis"

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Same-sex_marriage_in_the_United_States

    As you can see, DonaldM, the movement to bring equality to same-sex couples is a currently evolving worldwide. And it will continue to evolve on our planet. Therefore, statute written in many states, such as those in Montana, based upon Christian moral values --- will, indeed, in time, fall.

    Until every American, regardless of their genetic structure, obtains equality within Our society and can live out their lives as they deem fit.

    That's kind of what "equality and justice for all" means.
  8. Keni
    Report Abuse
    Keni - December 18, 2012 6:32 pm
    "While homosexual relationships have been tolerated in many cultures throughout history, I am aware of no Society which formally allowed such marriages"

    "Since 2000, eleven countries (Argentina, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Iceland, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, South Africa, Sweden) and several sub-national jurisdictions (parts of Brazil, Mexico and the United States) have begun to allow same-sex couples to marry."

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Same-sex_marriage

    It has nothing to do with being able to reproduce. Many male-female marriages can't reproduce either. So shall We void those marriages and make "being able to reproduce" a criteria for a socially accepted marriage?


  9. Pawn Artist
    Report Abuse
    Pawn Artist - December 18, 2012 5:09 pm
    And not to murder, and not to steal, and to honor your parents, I guess that's all bad advice???
  10. Pawn Artist
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    Pawn Artist - December 18, 2012 4:59 pm
    with pets, hamsters? who knows, crazy world full of crazy people.
  11. Pawn Artist
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    Pawn Artist - December 18, 2012 4:38 pm
    Another waste of taxpayers money, why do people think they need the governments approval for everything?, are you insecure about your lifestyle? You should just be secure in who you think you are and keep the government out of your personal life and bedrooms, if you give them the power to say yes today it is that much easier for them to say no tomorrow, the government should have nothing to do with any marriage or personal life choices that do not harm others.
  12. Aberdeen
    Report Abuse
    Aberdeen - December 18, 2012 4:00 pm
    This whole dialogue is a classic example of folks venting their biases and prejucices without having to take any personal responsibility for their comments by using their real names: I'm outta here!
  13. Sukey
    Report Abuse
    Sukey - December 18, 2012 3:59 pm
    I like gay people, even Mr. Clooney, although he's not gay. They love the little gifts I have in my gift shop and most hate the idea of trapping wolves or anything else. I find gay's very kind people, usually well educated. Gay's are lovely people, they just have a peculiar taste in romance, and that will clog up the legal system and makes many people very uncomfortable, especially those that rely on their Bible for a moral compass. If they get "equal benefits" then I shall demand "equal benefits" from the committed relationship I have with my Father, who has very good health insurence in his retirement...as long as I don't have to have sex with him, which at our ages, is probably no longer illegal (or possible)...As far as having backward views of the world, I'm rather proud of that, and that's why I'm here in Montana. If you want Progressive, you'll find it on Castro Street in San Francisco, orNew York City, or a number of other big urban Blue States. Mostly in Montana, we are slow to come around, very conservative, and yes, proud to cling to our Bibles and guns.
  14. Aberdeen
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    Aberdeen - December 18, 2012 3:54 pm
    He's good looking, wealthy and way to smart to agree to someone who sounds as dumb as you do!
  15. Helen mo
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    Helen mo - December 18, 2012 3:01 pm
    Websters dictionary has even amended the definition of marriage to include same sex marriage.... The "word" may have religious origins (not sure) but times are changing.... Of course that doesn't mean you have change your religious views or opinions- it's a WORD- nothing more. But I do agree and like the opinion that we should be able to share benefits with any one person we choose (spouse, liver, friend, parent, sibling, etc).
  16. PelosiGalore
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    PelosiGalore - December 18, 2012 1:43 pm
    Can I put my mom on my health insurance...No. Are gays fighting to allow everyone to be allowed to share benefits with anyone the choose, anyone they love....No. Are they fighting to allow marriage to anyone, even polygamists....No. This is about forcing acceptance. I actually believe that everyone should have the same rights to legally binding associations & benefits, however Marriage is a RELGIOUS term that the government has no right to approve, or involve itself with in any way. remember that seperation of church & state thingy? The best solution would be for gov't to uninvolve itself in people's marriages and simply allow everyone to designate any person they choose to share their benefits & tax filings etc. But gays will never do that. they are more interested in forcing their deffinition into someone else's religion as a way to force acceptance. Marriage is between a man & a woman. You do not get to use the government to change the deffinition of a religious term just because you feel like it. I will fight for all or your rights to equal treatment, but I will never let you dictate my religion.
  17. Helen mo
    Report Abuse
    Helen mo - December 18, 2012 1:14 pm
    Oh, Sukey, so you do know that Mr. Clooney is also a supporter of gay marriage? Lol! Silly silly person with silly backward views of the world....
  18. Sukey
    Report Abuse
    Sukey - December 18, 2012 12:41 pm
    If we all have "equality" and can marry whomever we want, then I want to marry George Cloony. I have no interest in having sex with him, but he's nice to look at and earns a great living, would liven up parties, and would probably be good to my cat. But, I can't. You see, he may object, there's laws against bigamy, and it would probably annoy my husband, Old Faithful....So, nope, there is no marriage equality...
  19. Sukey
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    Sukey - December 18, 2012 12:35 pm
    Depends on which version of the Bible you believe....
  20. wes d
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    wes d - December 18, 2012 12:30 pm
    You say Montanan's don't want gay marriages shoved down our throat. How is it being shoved down your throat? Exactly how does affect you in ANY way if two gay people who love each other get married? Tell me, HOW DOES IT AFFECT YOU IN ANY WAY???? If you say, "because it compromises the sanctity of marriage", why don't you fight to outlaw divorce??? Live and let live and shut up.
  21. BJG1
    Report Abuse
    BJG1 - December 18, 2012 12:03 pm
    Actually, Sukey, the bible describes Sodom as a city that was unwelcoming of strangers, and therefore comdemmed by God; it really had nothing to do with homosexuality. And remember Sukey, if you follow the bible, you will be damned if you wear clothing of different kinds, shave your beard. touch the skin of a pig, commit adultry, etc...
  22. hcamper
    Report Abuse
    hcamper - December 18, 2012 11:28 am
    So where DO we draw the line? There are lots of people who live together w/o having sex - especially legally married people. So, is having sex the deciding factor as to who gets benefits? How do we define having sex? Or is it just living together? So, do married people who live together but don't have "sex" lose their benefits? Stupid arguments.

    The US has spent far to much time and energy on this. Just give everyone equality and let's move forward.

    And the dissent being over 100 pages, while the majority was 6? Quantity over quality, I guess.
  23. Sukey
    Report Abuse
    Sukey - December 18, 2012 11:17 am
    When all those little kids were slaughtered because no one in charge had a gun, and President Obama said, "Our thoughts and prayers go out to them", who do you think President Obama was praying to? By the way, Jews believe in the Bible also, the Old Testament which contains the 10 Commandments. Thats why our entire nation is based on Christian/Judeo concepts, like it or not...
  24. sallymander
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    sallymander - December 18, 2012 10:53 am
    So what what the Bible says. It's not the law of the land and not everyone is a Christian.
  25. blank
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    blank - December 18, 2012 10:21 am
    Where's leadership on the MT Supreme Court? Whatever can Chief Justice McGrath be thinking, recommending plaintiffs clog the judicial system for years with statute-by-statute actions? I hope the AG--this month!--files for relief from the Court's apparent course in this matter; neither the Montana Department of Justice nor the Montana Supreme Court deserves having to process this single matter in dozens (hundreds?) of individual cases. Efficient adjudication was one of the purposes of the Uniform Declaratory Judgements Act; our legislature knew what it was doing when it provided this means of addressing duplicated issues. Again, what was the Chief Justice thinking?
  26. DonaldM
    Report Abuse
    DonaldM - December 18, 2012 10:04 am
    "Such statues are often based upon Christian ethics and moral values,:

    You need to do some study of world history. Male/female marriage has been the norm since the beginning of the reality of sexual reproduction and the establishment of the institution of marriage. Same sex couples can not reproduce! It was a principle long before the establishment of Christianity, or even Judaism. It is fundamental to Natural Law. In fact numerous cultures have, and still do, execute homosexuals-check out Islam.

    While homosexual relationships have been tolerated in many cultures throughout history, I am aware of no Society which formally allowed such marriages . The point, however, is that the opposition to same-sex marriages is NOT an artifact of Christian bigotry. Opposition is much more fundamental than that.
  27. Alan Johnson
    Report Abuse
    Alan Johnson - December 18, 2012 9:43 am
    Actually, Pistol, trusts, POA,s wills, etc. are a way of distributing property one has. It does not address the issue of gay couples having spousal rights when it comes to state benefits.
  28. Sukey
    Report Abuse
    Sukey - December 18, 2012 9:43 am
    No, it won't. The Bible doesn't tell us that women can't vote or that you can't marry outside of your own race. It did destroy a "community" practicing sodomy...
  29. sallymander
    Report Abuse
    sallymander - December 18, 2012 8:25 am
    Ten or at most twenty years from now the younger people who replace the old will look back at the anti-gay laws and lack of rights and think what a bunch of bigots. It will be looked upon the same as not allowing women to vote and banning interracial marriage.
  30. Sukey
    Report Abuse
    Sukey - December 18, 2012 8:05 am
    Justice Patricia Cotter was one of the dissenters. She's not from Montana and probably needs to go back to where she came from to practice law. Montana residents don't want gay marriages shoved down our throat. She's affiliated with the Ninth Circuit and that's one of the most liberal activist Courts in America. They seem to support every case that comes to them AGAINST mining, logging, ranching and for environmental activists. I just went back and looked at the Supreme Court docket for decisions over the last 30 days. It had the one with the B & B owner invaded by people who had been vandalizing, destroying his business and doing death threats against his family for years. The Jury awarded the B & B owner hundreds of thousands of dollars for mental anguish and business loss and found his use of a weapon to stop their trespass on his property justified. I'll bet part of that award was because the property owner had to go to that extent to protect himself, his family, and his property. Cotter wrote the opinion that the property owner is not justified in having a weapon ON HIS OWN PROPERTY to defend his family and a community water system these people kept vandalizing. Meaning? You can "bear arms" but Cotter will rule against you, going against the Jury and the District Court who heard the whole case. Does Montana really need a Justice that, on the surface, appears to be for Gays, for Environmental Extremists and against gun owners, against Christians who value marriage between one man and one woman, and against all the economic values of the Treasure State? She dealt with contempt for Montana voters who voted into law the definition of "one man, one woman" comprising a marriage. She showed contempt for a Jury of 12 people who strongly endorsed a property/business owner's right to defend himself against those intent on harming him. With what went on in Dixon, and the guy used a knife to kill them, every property owner ought to be keeping their weapons handy. Patricia Cotter has been on the Supreme Court for 12 years. The State of Montana's Supreme Court is ranked NEAR THE BOTTOM for Business Climate. It is ranked NEAR THE BOTTOM for Judicial impartiality. There is a website that details this and is asking for signatures to stop these liberal activist decisions.
  31. walter12
    Report Abuse
    walter12 - December 18, 2012 7:37 am
    Missoula sure has more than its share of anti-Christians in it. Now the homosexual lobby wants special privileges. The entire gay marriage issue is important to 5% of the population and some of their allies.
  32. 1amendmentman
    Report Abuse
    1amendmentman - December 18, 2012 7:31 am
    Entitlement mentality.
    They wont stop until they have more rights than straight people.
    havent these people heard of 'living wills, power of attorney, ect'?
    what's is the secret agenda? legalize gay marriage.
    the majority has spoken. NO.
  33. startingover
    Report Abuse
    startingover - December 18, 2012 7:18 am
    Ignorance is bliss.
  34. Roger
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    Roger - December 18, 2012 6:58 am
    That's a bit hypocritical coming from a woman, considering all the special treatment they receive because of their gender.
  35. Sukey
    Report Abuse
    Sukey - December 18, 2012 2:53 am
    I agree with the majority. Its a legal nightmare to give same sex people "equal rights" because they have sex with each other. If I lived with someone who was of the same sex, and we're friends who share a home, go places with each other -Church, lady's clubs, vacation, etc., but don't have sex with each other, than we could be the next group demanding "equal rights". Where does this stop?
  36. Nils
    Report Abuse
    Nils - December 17, 2012 10:02 pm
    The majority opinion is 6 pages of poorly organized, superficial mush. Justice Nelson wrote the dissent: well-reasoned, and roughly 100 pages in length.

    Whether you agree or disagree with the Court's opinion, the dissent is a fascinating read with great historical insight.
  37. Keni
    Report Abuse
    Keni - December 17, 2012 7:27 pm
    In a country, and state, based upon equality for everyone and equal rights for everyone and religious freedoms for everyone, We sure as hell waste a lot of tax dollars in court actions created by bigoted statutes designed to discriminate against Our citizens.

    Such statues are often based upon Christian ethics and moral values, which is precisely why they need to be tossed out, discarded, removed from the Codes. And replaced by statutes that do not discriminate, in any fashion, against Our citizens' right to live out their lives as they deem fit.

    It's not the state's position to decide what constitutes a "marriage" between two of it's citizens. Especially when such a decision directly violates the First Amendment by creating laws based upon Christian moral values of what ought to be.

    Secondly, if we waved a magic wand and made every gay, lesbian or bisexual disappear from the planet today, a whole new generation of such people would be born tomorrow as it's in the human gene pool and put there by a power far mightier than any human institution,

    Discrimination, in any fashion, by Our state or federal governments through laws based upon any form of religious values against an individual's genes is, indeed, injustice. So it's really time Our lawmakers, people We elect to those seats in Helena, get the bovine manure out of the states Codes and bring about justice and equality for all of Our citizens instead of trying to legislate Christian moral values to the populace -- many who are not Christians.
  38. Pistol
    Report Abuse
    Pistol - December 17, 2012 6:28 pm
    Curmudgeon I am sorry you feel these plantiffs are not respectable. That said all there concerns can be taken care of by various legal documentations. Living trust, power of attorney, etc. The suit has nothing to do with what they aledge. It's about gay marriage. The money they have spent on the legal fees would have better been spent.
  39. paganlady
    Report Abuse
    paganlady - December 17, 2012 5:59 pm
    This is so much bull, Unfortunately I was not living here when that stupid law was passed. I wish the church would tell the truth about its historical stand on Marriage its all about the fact it is a civil institution based on civil law only in the last millennium has the church performed religious rites except in the cases of Monarchs and still it is in that case a contract between 2 country"s People are so ignorant they will believe any lie that the church makes up with out checking the facts. I would say if you are denied the rights you shouldn't have to pay taxes to support a corrupt bigoted system.
  40. urmom
    Report Abuse
    urmom - December 17, 2012 5:45 pm
    Equal rights for straight, white, Christian males. The rest of you are out of luck.
  41. Alan Johnson
    Report Abuse
    Alan Johnson - December 17, 2012 4:49 pm
    The issue will be back, with specific statutes targeted. The court left the door open.
  42. Curmudgeon
    Report Abuse
    Curmudgeon - December 17, 2012 2:08 pm
    "Equal rights for everybody (except those we don't deem respectable)."

    Reading between the lines.
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