Missoula Registry Passes

Dear Greg,

Thanks so much for your support of the registry. I’m happy to report that it passed unanimously last night at Council. Your email made a big difference. I’ll be in touch with how you can register once we solidify the timeline with the Clerk’s office…hopefully we’ll be up and running Aug. 1.

Best, Caitlin

More here: http://www.kpax.com/mobile/news/missoula-council-passes-domestic-partnership-resolution/

Why the Missoula Registry Matters

by Caitlin Copple

Tonight, Missoula’s City Council will vote to establish a domestic partnership registry open to same-sex couples across the Treasure State. But let’s be honest, domestic partnership registry doesn’t sound very sexy.  It doesn’t carry as much weight as full marriage equality, or even civil unions at the state level. So why even do it?

Let me be clear: No one should settle for mere city-level domestic partnership recognition. I’m certainly not going to. That’s why I hope you will join me in continuing to support these great organizations working on non-discrimination ordinances in Montana cities (www.mhrn.org, www.forwardmontana.org, http://www.fairisfairmontana.org) as well as statewide relationship recognition through the newly refiled Donaldson v. Montana case (www.aclumontana.org).

So if full marriage equality and non-discrimination is what LGBT Montanans and our allies really want, why bother with this little domestic partnership registry in Missoula? Does it even matter? Yep, and here’s why:

  1.  It’s called an LGBT movement for a reason. We can and should be moving forward at every level of our democracy until LGBT Montanans are treated equally under the law and our families are valued and respected in our culture – From Missoula to Miles City.  Incremental and inadequate as a registry may seem, it is an important step on the path to full equality.
  2. It sends a message to the State of Montana that cities will do everything they can for LGBT residents despite discriminatory laws. Municipal domestic partnership registries are proven to pave the way for more meaningful statewide change. We’ve seen this in the 58 other cities across 23 states, many which lacked any relationship recognition prior to the establishment of a local registry. You know how Minnesota defeated a ballot initiative to ban same-sex marriage last fall, and how their legislature just passed marriage equality this session? Well, before any of that happened, Rochester and Minneapolis were leading the way by recognizing all families at the city level. This is not a coincidence.
  3.  Municipal domestic partnership registries help same-sex partners get health insurance coverage, as well as better treatment from first responders and hospitals. It’s not a replacement for statewide mandates or getting an advanced medical directive (Click here to make sure you have all your bases covered: http://www.hrc.org/resources/entry/protecting-your-visitation-decision-making-rights). However,  Cathryn Oakley, director of the Municipal Equality Index project at HRC (her aunt lives in Billings – love that!) has provided me with countless examples of how this is happening in cities with registries across the country.  The wallet card offers proof for employers that want to do the right thing despite bad state law, and something that emergency and hospital personnel can point to in your time of need.

Here’s a link to the text of the Missoula resolution that will govern how the registry operates: http://missoula.siretechnologies.com/sirepub/cache/2/najfwbk13nw4n5achjhsqw54/7845907152013011316448.PDF. It’s open to all Montana couples.  Let the council know you support this effort by emailing us at council@ci.missoula.mt.us.

Remember, this registry is completely voluntary, and it is public information under state law, so if it’s not for you, don’t sign up. Coming out is always a risk, and as LGBT people, we make the decision every day about how out we want to be at work, at school, to our families and our faith communities. This is one more way that couples who want to can come out as domestic partners, and get at least some of the recognition and dignity they deserve, at least at the city level. It’s not perfect, but it’s a start. Together, by advocating at every level of our democracy, we can bring equality to all Montanans and our families.

Wyoming: “The Inequality State”

Wyoming’s latest opportunity to prove that it’s state motto is even partially true has dissolved.

The “Equality State” has rejected even domestic partnerships for same-sex partners after bringing it to the House floor yesterday. From the Casper Star-Tribune:

Seal of Wyoming

Seal of Wyoming (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Wyoming House has shot down a bill that would have allowed same-sex couples to create domestic partnerships carrying most of the legal rights of conventional marriage.

The House voted 35-to-24 against the bill. It marked the first time that pro-gay legislation reached a full floor debate in the state Legislature.

Proponents of the bill said that it would grant same-sex couples as well as other citizens a way to share their property and make health care decisions for each other.

Opponents warned that the bill threatened to open the state to legal action seeking to force it to approve same-sex marriage.

A separate bill cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday that would outlaw discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. That bill now heads to the full Senate.

Wyoming, the state where Matthew Shepard was tragically murdered- now has an opportunity to outlaw discrimination. I will be delighted to see it happen- but it doesn’t seem very likely at this point.

Sad. If I were a Wyoming legislator, I’d introduce a bill to change the motto to “The Inequality State”.

Please Share Your Story With Fair is Fair MT

The Fair is Fair campaign, a project of the ACLU of Montana, is dedicated to increasing public support for domestic partnerships by telling the stories of real couples who have been denied equal protection because their relationships are not legally recognized.
We are looking for same-sex couples who are willing to share their stories about how they have been denied basic protections afforded to other families.
 
MainLogo21If you are in a committed relationship with a same-sex partner and you have experienced difficulties (tax problems, pension issues, problems related to caring for children or making medical decisions for your family, or any other types of difficulties) because your relationship isn’t legally recognized, please e-mail me at niniab@aclumontana.org.
 
All communications will be handled as confidential by the ACLU.
 
Right now, loving, committed same-sex couples and their children still don’t have the protections they need to live their own lives in Montana.  The ACLU has brought a lawsuit, Donaldson and Guggenheim v. State of Montana, to win equal protection for same-sex couples.  Court cases are important, but to win lasting fairness for gay and lesbian couples we need to convince not just the courts but also the general public that Montanans need domestic partnerships.
 
Please don’t pass up this opportunity to tell your story and to help Fair is Fair change hearts and minds.
 

Montana Supreme Court Allows Domestic Partnership Case for Same-Sex Couples To Move Forward

 

 

 

Justices reverse dismissal of case by the district court and allow litigation to proceed

 

 

 

011: Card-Carrying

 (Photo credit: vociferous.)

 

HELENA, MT — The ACLU and plaintiffs, six loving, committed same-sex couples, will move forward with efforts to secure domestic partnership protections in light of a Montana Supreme Court decision, which in part granted their appeal in Donaldson and Guggenheim v. State of Montana from a dismissal of the case by the district court.

 

Though the court denied the plaintiffs’ initial appeal as too broad, the justices said the ACLU could move forward with more narrowly tailored efforts to secure equal treatment for same-sex couples in the state.

 

“Three of the justices said they would have granted same-sex couples recognition as domestic partners now. The majority also made clear that the decision to remand the case for additional proceedings in the lower court was based on technical issues, not on the substance of our argument that the Montana Constitution mandates equal treatment of all people,” said ACLU of Montana Legal Director Jon Ellingson. “They said that while we could not challenge the omission of same-sex couples from all of the statutes involving the rights of married couples in one case, we can challenge those statutes individually. We plan to do just that.”

 

The opinion states: “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.”

 

“We’re encouraged by the decision because the justices said that we could pursue the protections we are seeking,” said Mary Leslie, who lives with her partner, Stacey Haugland in Bozeman. “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.”  Leslie lost her home because she was ineligible for worker’s compensation death benefits when her partner was killed in an accident. Another plaintiff, Denise Boettcher of Laurel, was denied bereavement leave when her partner Kellie Gibson’s father died.

 

In his dissent from the majority, Justice James Nelson wrote that same-sex couples should be given full protection now, saying the case, “concerns the right of committed intimate same-sex couples to receive the same civil protections which the State makes available to committed intimate different-sex couples. Plaintiffs assert, and rightly so, that their government may not single out unpopular groups for disfavored treatment, as the State of Montana has done here… I have never disagreed more strongly with the Court as I do in this case. With due respect, I believe today’s decision… wrongly deprives an abused minority their civil rights.”

 

Nearly 1,500 Montanans and more than 100 Montana-owned businesses have signed on in support of domestic partnerships, and more are signing on each day. Sixty-six Montana religious leaders signed onto an amicus brief supporting the ACLU’s appeal. Even more clergy signed a statement supporting the rights of same-sex couples.

 

“Montanans believe all their neighbors deserve dignity and respect,” said Rev. Marc Stewart, a Montana/Northern Wyoming United Church of Christ Conference Minister. “We believe that loving, committed couples should be able to fully live their own lives and have the protection of the state.”

 

Plaintiffs in the case 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. All say they will continue working with the ACLU to pursue legal recognition of their lifelong commitments to each other.

 

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

 

Additional information about the case can be found at http://www.aclumontana.org and http://www.aclu.org/mtpartnerships.

 

 

 

 

 

Share Your Story- Montana LGBT Couples Needed

SHARE YOUR STORY 

The ACLU of MT needs your help to
make domestic partnerships a reality in Montana!

Real families with real stories

will help us convince the public that same-sex couples need

equal protection to safeguard our families in times of crisis. 

For more information

read the ACLU memo below

or write to

ACLU of Montana LGBT Advocacy Coordinator Ninia Baehr at niniab@aclumontana.org.

English: No Homophobia logo

English: No Homophobia logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In Montana, the state government offers legal protections to couples and families that help them care for one another. Right now, these protections are only available to couples who get married. This means that opposite-sex couples are eligible for the safeguards offered by the state, because they are able to marry. But loving, committed couples of the same sex are left without the protections they need to care for one another in times of crisis, and that’s not fair.

The Montana Constitution guarantees fair and equal treatment to all people. That’s why the ACLU of Montana is suing on behalf of same-sex couples who have been denied the ability to take care of each other and their families. In the lawsuit Donaldson and Guggenheim v. Montana, the plaintiffs are asking the state to create a domestic partnership registry that would grant them access to the safeguards that are currently only available through marriage. Here are a few of the ways the plaintiffs have been discriminated against:

  • Mary Leslie of Bozeman lost her home because she was ineligible for worker’s compensation death benefits when her partner was killed in an accident.
  • Denise Boettcher of Laurel was denied bereavement leave when her partner Kellie Gibson’s father died.
  • When Mary Anne Guggenheim of Helena had a hip replacement, a health care provider would not speak to her long-time partner Jan Donaldson without a release.

Lawsuits like Donaldson and Guggenheim are important, but to win lasting fairness for gay and lesbian couples we need to convince not only the courts but also the general public that Montanans need domestic partnerships. Our public education campaign, Fair is Fair, highlights the real stories of real people who have been denied equal protection. We are looking for same-sex couples who are willing to share their stories about how they have been denied basic protections afforded to other families. We are especially interested in hearing from couples who have been denied one of the following rights:

 The right to make medical decisions for their partner if s/he is incapable of doing so

 Inheritance rights or the right to determine burial arrangements

 The right to family medical or bereavement leave

 Priority to become the court-appointed guardian for an incapacitated partner

Have you had experiences like these?

If so, please e-mail me at niniab@aclumontana.org or call (406) 579- 8884. ACLU staff will listen and talk with you to explore whether your story might be a good fit with the Fair is Fair campaign. We will keep your information confidential unless and until you feel comfortable telling your story publicly. For more information about the Fair is Fair campaign go to www.fairisfairmontana.org. And please do pass this on if you know a couple who might be interested. Don’t miss this opportunity to make your voice heard!

ACLU Presents Montana Supreme Court Appeal Friday For Same-Sex Domestic Partnerships

The American Civil Liberties Union will appear before the Montana Supreme Court Friday for oral arguments on behalf of six committed same-sex couples seeking domestic partnership recognition.

The case, Donaldson and Guggenheim v. State of Montana, was filed in July 2010 and seeks protection for same-sex Montana couples and their families under the Montana Constitution’s rights of privacy, dignity and equal protection under the law. The goal of the lawsuit is to ensure that same-sex couples have access to the legal protections and obligations they need to take care of each other and their families.

In 2011, District Court Judge Jeffrey Sherlock dismissed the case. Friday’s oral arguments are part of the appeal of that decision.

WHAT:       Oral arguments in the appeal of Donaldson and Guggenheim v. State of Montana.

WHO:          Arguments will be heard by the Montana Supreme Court.

Plaintiffs available for comment will be Jan Donaldson and Mary Anne Guggenheim, Mike Long and Rich Parker, Rick Wagner and Gary Stallings, Denise Boettcher and Kellie Gibson, and Stacey Haugland and Mary Leslie.

Cooperating Attorney James Goetz, ACLU and ACLU of Montana attorneys will be available for comment.

WHEN:        Friday, April 13, 2012
9:30 a.m. MST

WHERE:     University Theater
University of Montana
Missoula, Montana

More information is available at www.aclumontana.org and www.fairisfairmontana.org.

Couple’s Love Inspires A More Equal Montana

By Caitlin Copple

This Valentine’s Day season, many Montanans are blushing about their current crush or building a relationship with that special someone. For same-sex couples here, the butterflies and bliss of true love is often met with a cold, hard legal reality. Only six states and the District of Columbia offer equal marriage rights, and Montana is not one of them. Groups like ACLU of Montana, a recent grantee of The Advocacy Fund at Pride Foundation, are trying to change that by taking a relationship recognition lawsuit to the state Supreme Court.

Kellie, Denise and Morrgan

One of the couples in the ACLU case is Kellie and Denise. They live in Laurel, population roughly 7,000, about 20 miles west of Billings. They are one of six couples who are plaintiffs in the ACLU’s current Guggenheim v. Montana case currently before the state Supreme Court.

Kellie and Denise have been together for 11 years. They’ve raised Kellie’s two children from a previous marriage, and recently jointly adopted Kellie’s 5-year-old nephew, Morrgan. Denise, 47, is a middle school science teacher and a basketball coach. Kellie, 48, worked for many years at a juvenile detention center, but is now on disability because she suffers from a rare brain condition that has required 56 brain surgeries and over 300 spinal taps over the past decade.

Heterosexual married state employees automatically receive 10 days of bereavement leave when a family member or in-law dies, but Denise was denied bereavement leave by her employer when Kellie’s father died last April. This was despite the fact that the couple had a private commitment ceremony in 2001, witnessed by about 30 friends and family members present. They are just like most Montanans – they are active at church, and they love to travel, camp, and fish. Unlike most Montanans, their relationship doesn’t “count” according to state and federal law.

Kellie credits Denise standing by her for being able to make it through her health problems: “She never left me when I was so sick,” she says. “I endure her relentless love of sports and she endures my need for dogs. I love her to infinity and beyond!”

“Kellie and Denise have been incredibly helpful with their participation in Fair is Fair events,” said the ACLU’s LGBT organizer Liz Welch, who is based in Billings. “One of the most touching things to watch is the tenderness and protectiveness they have for each other while at these public events. I admire these two and their affectionate, playful relationship all the more because of the obstacles I know they have had to overcome.”

Guggenheim v. Montana is currently before the Montana Supreme Court. Both sides have submitted briefs and multiple amicus briefs have also been filed in support of both side of the case. Supporting amicus are 65 Montana Religious Leaders, American Psychological Association, Legal Voice, Montana Human Rights Network and Gary J. Gates and MV Lee Badgett. According to Welch, the ACLU expects a court date to be set in the very near future.

Here’s to hoping this is the last Valentine’s Day Montana’s same-sex couples spend being treated unfairly under the law.

To keep updated on the case, as well as other projects of the ACLU of Montana, please visit:www.fairisfairmontana.org or email lwelch@acluofmontana.org to volunteer or sign a petition in support of the lawsuit.

Caitlin Copple is the Montana Regional Development Organizer for the Pride Foundation. Feel free to email her at Caitlin@pridefoundation.org with blog ideas or to volunteer.This story first appeared in Pride Foundation’s Blog.

Spokesman-Review Opinion: “Gays Deserve Same Rights”

English: John Eder at the Portland Pride Festi...

Image via Wikipedia

In Spokane’s Spokesman-Review, the marriage equality issue in Washington State is given some real-life background for its readers: the story of a couple who’d like to be legally married. Governor Chris Gregoire has recently announced her support for marriage equality in Washington- a state that has had domestic partnerships for same-sex couples in place since 2007. Eastern Washington- traditionally more conservative than the Sound Side- is the audience served by the Spokesman Review, and a great place to see this rational and reasonable opinion piece getting such great play. Some Washington Republican legislators have recently announced their support as well. I think it’s looking better and better every day to expect marriage equality to pass the Washington legislature this year.

The times, they are a-changin’. Warms my heart.

Here’s a taste of the story- with the money quote in bold:

Flannery doesn’t expect churches to change their stances on same-sex marriage, but he does believe government should treat everyone equally.

So does Susan Hammond, a Spokane nurse. Late Wednesday night, after Gregoire’s speech, Hammond posted on Facebook a letter to her legislators. She invited her friends to forward it as well.

She wrote, “I am counting on your leadership and humanity to do the right thing so that my young adult son, who is gay, can live in a society that affirms who he is and allows him the same right his brothers already have: to marry the person of his choice.”

The opposition to same-sex marriage baffles Hammond. “I honestly don’t get it,” she says.

After all, the strongest argument against changing the law is that marriage has traditionally been defined as being between a man and a woman. But that’s like using a long-standing definition of slavery as an argument against emancipation.

I’m making that my facebook status today.

Full story here.

The “Right” Responds To MT ACLU Lawsuit

The mouthpiece of Denny Rehberg, Steve Daines and Corey Stapleton, Treasure State Politics, has reacted to the ACLU appeal for same sex domestic partnerships- and, as expected, it ain’t pretty.

In fact, it’s disgusting. Excerpt:

If the ACLU wins the suit, the legislature will be forced to create a law that ensures gay and lesbian couples are given the same rights as traditional couples. This potentially means a civil union, but to be truly treated the same they would have to be recognized as married individuals, clearly not what the people of Montana decided.

Moreover it opens the legal precedent to further compromise the sanctity of marriage in Montana. If being treated the same under the law means we must recognize gay and lesbian couples, we also must recognize polygamist marriages. If a church is willing to marry traditional couples in Montana, it could be required to marry gay and lesbian couples. But these are reasons Montanans already settled this issue in 2004.

Every Montanan has the same rights, as the constitution requires. I have the right to marry a member of the opposite sex, just as these couples do; and I have the right to be in a relationship, but not to marry, someone of the same sex, just as these couples do. There is no violation of equal treatment under the law. (emphases mine)

Gay and lesbian couples are openly- brazenly- derided as undeserving of equal rights and compared to polygamists. This is an ignorant, ridiculous piece, obviously written from a bigoted and fearful perspective. The writer  has inflamed the fears and prejudice existing in good people who may not know better- or who are entrenched in their fundamentalist beliefs.

That’s not only irresponsible, it’s despicable.

I am no threat to anyone’s marriage. My desire to commit to my partner for life is being dismissed as fundamentally invalid by people who have no possible right or understanding of my life, my biology, my spirituality, my thoughts and my emotions.

Moreover, they don’t want to even try.

They just want to frighten- and keep us unmarried, unrecognized, marginalized, sleazy and freakish in the minds of their constituents.

It’s at the root of all the anti-gay bigotry in the state. A spade is a spade.

I just wish they had the balls to admit it.