Angie and Tonya Rolando share a last name, but they are not married. The Great Falls couple is one of four loving, committed same-sex couples the ACLU is representing as they sue Montana in federal court for the right to get married or to have their marriages from other states legally recognized in Montana.
“My every day is her,” says Angie Rolando of her partner Tonya. “I can’t think of a part of my life without her connected to it.”
They aren’t alone. Same-sex couples across Montana want to make a promise in front of family and friends to love and care for one another. Marriage is the way to commit to a lifetime together – the ups and downs, the good and bad.
In Fall 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear marriage equality cases, letting decisions in favor of marriage equality stand in seven circuits. That decision, coupled with the Ninth Circuit’s ruling that marriage bans in Nevada and Idaho are unconstitutional, means that marriage equality will be a reality in Montana very soon.
On October 15, 2014, the ACLU filed a Motion for Summary Judgment after the Ninth Circuit Court ruled in a unanimous opinion that Idaho and Nevada’s bans on marriage for same-sex couples are unconstitutional as discrimination based on sexual orientation under the federal Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution. Montana is part of Ninth Circuit and federal district courts here use precedents from that circuit to make rulings.
“It isn’t the government’s place to stand in the way of someone’s happiness,” says ACLU of Montana Legal Director Jim Taylor. “It’s the government’s place to provide equal protection under the law. Excluding same-sex couples from marriage is a clear violation of our nation’s guarantee of equal protection. Every couple should have the freedom to marry and to have the legal protections to care for one another that marriage provides.”
Plaintiffs in the case are Angie and Tonya Rolando of Great Falls, Shauna and Nicole Goubeaux of Billings, Ben Milano and Chase Weinhandl of Bozeman and Sue Hawthorne and Adel Johnson of Helena.
“We want Aden to grow up knowing that we are a family like any other family,” says Shauna Goubeaux of her and wife Nicole’s 1 year-old son. The two married in Iowa, but that marriage is not recognized in Montana. “Marriage is part of being a family. By being plaintiffs in this case we are showing him his mommies will stand up for what is right and stand up for him.”
“An amazing change has taken place over the past few years as more Americans embrace the idea that same-sex couples should have the freedom to marry,” says Elizabeth Gill, staff attorney with the ACLU Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender Project. “It’s time for Montana to join the march toward equality for all loving and committed couples across the country.”
Please support us as we work toward making marriage equality a reality in Montana. Sign the statement of support.
Meet the couples
Ben Milano and Chase Weinhandl of Bozeman love spending time exploring Montana’s great outdoors with their three pups. They married in Hawaii in January, and ready to have that marriage recognized in their home state.
Shauna and Nicole Goubeaux of Billings center their life together around 1 year-old redheaded son, Aden. Holidays mean pulling out all the stops to make magical moments for him and the children of family and friends.
Sue Hawthorne and Adel Johnson of Helena are two women defined by strength and love. Both dedicated years to the military to protect freedom. Both are completely dedicated to one another and to making sure all couples in Montana can marry.
Domestic Partnerships and the Donaldson case
The ACLU of Montana is pursuing both the domestic partnership case (Donaldson) and the marriage equality case. All same-sex couples should have access to the universal recognition and dignity that comes through marriage, but real couples need real protections right now.
The Donaldson case is farther along in the legal process and, thus, has a greater chance of giving same-sex couples such legal protection in the short-term as people in Montana continue to pursue full marriage equality. The Donaldson case also raises many important issues based on the Montana Constitution, and we want to see those issues resolved. The marriage equality case is in federal court, and Donaldson is in state court.