Judge Rules in Favor of Marriage Equality in Montana

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By: Sarah Toce/Editor-in-Chief/The Seattle Lesbian

Referencing family values, the divorce rate and procreation, U.S. District Judge Brian Morris issued a ruling in favor of the freedom to marry Wednesday (yesterday) in Montana.

“Plaintiffs Angela Rolando and Tonya Rolando, a same-sex couple, live in Great Falls, Montana,” the ruling explained. “The couple attempted to obtain a marriage license at the Cascade County Clerk of Court’s office on May 19, 2014. The Cascade County Clerk of Court’s office denied the Rolandos a marriage license because Montana law prohibits the marriage of same-sex couples.”

The ruling added, “Plaintiffs Chase Weinhandl and Benjamin Milano, Susan Hawthorne and Adel Johnson, and Shauna Goubeaux and Nicole Goubeaux are same-sex couples who reside in Montana. Each couple, while living in Montana, traveled outside Montana to marry. The couples legally married under the laws of Hawaii, Washington, and Iowa, respectively. The State of Montana refuses to recognize these marriages of same-sex partners.” [pullquote]“An expert presented data from Massachusetts, where same-sex marriage has been permitted since 2004. No decrease in marriage rates or increase in divorce rates have occurred in the past decade. … —U.S. District Judge Brian Morris[/pullquote]

“Montana’s laws that ban same-sex marriage distinguish on their face between opposite-sex couples and same-sex couples. Montana law permits opposite-sex couples to marry. Montana law similarly recognizes the out-of-state marriages of opposite-sex couples. Montana law bans same-sex couples from marrying. Montana law further prohibits the recognition of out-of-state marriages by same-sex couples,” Judge Morris wrote.

Judge Morris added, “An expert presented data from Massachusetts, where same-sex marriage has been permitted since 2004. No decrease in marriage rates or increase in divorce rates have occurred in the past decade. Wednesday’s ruling follows a favorable marriage ruling by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in cases out of Idaho and Nevada. The circuit court holds jurisdiction over Montana, as well as Alaska and Arizona, which also have the freedom to marry.”

Citing Perry vs. Schwarzenegger, Judge Morris wrote, “This outcome follows the conclusion of other courts that ‘permitting same sex couples to marry will not affect the number of opposite-sex couples who marry, divorce, cohabit, have children outside of marriage or otherwise affect the stability of opposite-sex marriages.’”

On the subject of procreation, Judge Morris examined: “Opposite sex couples who lack reproductive capacity, or choose not to have children, are allowed to marry, but same-sex couples who already have children are not allowed to marry… And like many families in Montana, some of these same-sex couples raise children. Some of these children come to the families from previous relationships with opposite-sex partners. Others arrive to the families through the gift of adoption. Montana law allows, however, only one person from a same-sex couple to serve as the adoptive parent.”

Judge Morris said in closing, “Montana’s laws that ban same-sex marriage impose a ‘disfavored legal status’ on same-sex couples. The time has come for Montana to follow all the other states within the Ninth Circuit and recognize that laws that ban same-sex marriage violate the constitutional right of same-sex couples to equal protection of the laws. Today Montana becomes the thirty-fourth state to permit same-sex marriage.” [pullquote]”The time has come for Montana to follow all the other states within the Ninth Circuit and recognize that laws that ban same-sex marriage violate the constitutional right of same-sex couples to equal protection of the laws. Today Montana becomes the thirty-fourth state to permit same-sex marriage.”—Judge Morris[/pullquote]

Following the order, Evan Wolfson, president of Freedom to Marry, said: “Montana’s same-sex couples and their loved ones want what all families want: joy, protections, security, and respect – and that’s what the freedom to marry is all about. This ruling, in keeping with nearly every other court that has ruled in more than a year, brings us to 35 states with the freedom to marry — but we are not done until we end marriage discrimination in all 50 states. It’s time for the Supreme Court to affirm the freedom to marry nationwide and bring our country to national resolution for all loving and committed couples in every state.”

In total, more than 50 federal and state courts in the past year have ruled in favor of the freedom to marry for same-sex couples.

As for an appeal, Montana Attorney Tim Fox stated, “It is the attorney general’s sworn duty to uphold and defend Montana’s constitution until such time as there is no further review or no appeal can be made in a court of law. Fulfilling that duty, the state of Montana will appeal this ruling in light of the fact that there are conflicting federal court decisions and no final word from the U.S. Supreme Court.”

Judge Morris’ order can be read here.

 

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