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!

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.

Rehberg’s “Year Of Disaster”

One day after an Associated Press investigation found that Dennis Rehberg hid tens of thousands of dollars in cash from lobbyists, today the millionaire Congressman marks the one-year anniversary of his U.S. Senate campaign.

And what a year it’s been.
The Montana Democratic Party today released a video highlighting Rehberg’s most memorable, out-of-touch moments from the past year.  
“From calling Pell Grants ‘welfare’ to supporting an unpopular federal land-grab bill that undermines our rights, Congressman Rehberg has shown all of us how out of touch he is with Montana values–over and over again,” said Ted Dick, Executive Director of the Montana Democratic Party.  “Montanans deserve someone who stands for their values in Washington–not Dennis Rehberg, who was forced to drop a lawsuit against Billings firefighters.”
2011: A year of blunders for Congressman Dennis Rehberg:
February 6, 2011: Congressman Rehberg announces his candidacy for United States Senate alongside controversial presidential hopeful Michele Bachmann.  Bachmann had just proposedcutting $4.5 billion in veterans’ benefits.
February 8, 2011:  Rehberg makes national headlines for suggesting that judges should be on theEndangered Species Act.
April 1, 2011: Rehberg calls Pell Grants “the welfare of the 21st century.”
April 28 2011: Congressman Rehberg tells the Missoula City Club that although he is one of thewealthiest members of Congress, he is “struggling like everybody else” and “cash poor.”
September 2011: Montanans of all political backgrounds criticize Rehberg’s controversial sponsorship of his unpopular HR 1505, legislation that would give one federal agency the power to seize public lands in Montana.
October 8, 2011: The Associated Press notes that Rehberg has held “far more infrequent” public events in Montana.  Shortly thereafter, Rehberg stood by as a uniformed sheriff removed a Montana Democratic Party employee from Rehberg’s so called “public” event.
November 11, 2011: Amid a sea of controversy, Rehberg is forced to drop his wildly unpopular, 15-month lawsuit against Billings firefighters.
February 5, 2012: An Associated Press investigation finds that Rehberg hid tens of thousands of dollars campaign contributions, even as he criticizes others for taking campaign contributions.

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.

 

 

Rehbergs suing Billings: “Not about the money”- apparently they just don’t “understand”

In the Billings Gazette yesterday, the Firegate shitstorm has apparently come up against an election cycle speed bump: bad idea to sue the city and state you represent.

Unfortunately, the lawsuit isn’t being dropped, it’s just being pursued “without monetary compensation”.

The Rehbergs, represented by Billings attorney Cliff Edwards, filed the lawsuit in July 2010, just before the two-year statute of limitations was to run out. At the time, Edwards said the lawsuit was filed to preserve the Rehbergs’ legal claims.

The lawsuit alleges that the Billings Fire Department breached its duty to protect the subdivision during a wildfire that started on July 2, 2008. The fire was quickly contained, but it flared again two days later and spread over a large area, forcing the evacuation of about 40 homes.

The lawsuit sat dormant for months, however, because it was never served on the city. Edwards said the lawsuit was not served because it was hoped that the two sides could resolve the matter outside court. A party filing a civil lawsuit has three years in which to serve the other side.

But negotiations stalled this year, and on Sept. 20 an attorney representing the city, Michele Braukmann, filed an official response in the court case, an unusual legal move she said was intended to “move the litigation forward.”

In the interview, Jan Rehberg said she was frustrated with the city’s refusal to provide information about the fire before the filing of the lawsuit, such as a final report about the suppression efforts.

“When you talk about transparency in government, it goes to all levels,” she said. “They have a lot of responsibility, and in exchange for that they need to be open.”

A day before the city’s response was filed, Edwards sent Braukmann a seven-page letter that included the Rehbergs’ offer to settle the case “without monetary compensation if the city agrees to adopt specific wildland firefighting standards within an agreed time frame, and subject to review and comment by my client and/or the public at large.”

If such policies are already in place, the letter states, the Rehbergs “would like to review those policies and have them amended, as necessary.”

But this is my favorite part (emphasis mine)

On Thursday, Braukmann said the city is “pleased” by the offer to settle the case without a demand for money damages, and the city is working to respond to the request for more information about the fire.

Braukmann said much of the information already has been provided, but the city would provide it again in a different format that might be easier to understand.

‘Nuff said.  Read it all here.