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This past weekend was important to me for a number of reasons.
But I also got to meet and spend some quality time with dedicated Montana people who care about equality in our state. Some became even more strongly convinced after watching “Diversity Day” and “Love Free Or Die” presented in local churches.
Even I- a committed partner of the ACLU and the Fair Is Fair Campaign- became inspired after hearing Bishop Robinson speak about the need for Christian compassion and understanding in the face of fear and unintentional ignorance about LGBTIQ persons.
“Our job is to make this an issue of compassion and justice, not theology”, Bishop Robinson said. “We have to make the issue of fairness one that brings a face to mind whenever we talk about equality. This is about people.”
But being inspired is only as good as the actions it produces.
I want to encourage you to bolster the ACLU’s Fair Is Fair campaign by taking your inspiration and desire for justice and take action- by becoming a member.
My family belongs because we believe in the work of the ACLU. We believe it is important to support a coalition of organizations to bring full equality to all Montanans- but that only works if we all come together. The Montana ACLU is helping to make that happen, and I’m proud to be a supporting member.
I hope you’ll join us.
Justices reverse dismissal of case by the district court and allow litigation to proceed
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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:
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 email@example.com 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!
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
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.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.