The State of Montana should ensure that all people, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression, are protected from discrimination and that committed couples have full legal protections for their families.
Join us in building an inclusive Montana where everyone is valued and where basic fairness provides everyone equal access to employment, housing, public accommodations and legal protection for committed couples.
Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity has no place when it comes to where a person can work, live or play or when it comes to caring for our families.
The ACLU has been litigating on behalf of LGBT rights for well over a decade.
In May 2014, we filed a case in federal court challenging Montana’s marriage amendment. Rolando v. State was filed on behalf of four Montana same-sex couples seeking to marry in Montana or to have their marriages from other states recognized by Montana. On October 15, 2014, the ACLU filed a Motion for Summary Judgment in the case 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.
Montana’s Constitution guarantees the rights of privacy, dignity, pursuit of life’s necessities, equal protection and due process. The goal of our lawsuit, Donaldson and Guggenheim v. State of Montana, is to see that same-sex couples are able to protect their families with the same kind of legal protections that opposite-sex couples are offered through marriage. Although voters passed a constitutional amendment limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples, domestic partnerships would offer same-sex couples many of the protections they need. Real couples need real protection right now.
In Kulstad v. Maniaci, the ACLU’s plaintiff, Michelle Kulstad, sued her former partner for custody rights. The two women had jointly raised two children, but the children had only been legally adopted by Maniaci. In 2009, the Montana Supreme Court ruled that by providing for the children’s day-to-day physical and emotional needs with Maniaci’s encouragement, Kulstad met all the requirements under state law to be declared a de facto parent, and that it was in the children’s best interest that this parent-child relationship continue.
In February 2002, the ACLU, on behalf of two same-sex partners and PRIDE, brought the suit Snetsinger v. Montana against the Montana University System, the Montana Board of Regents and the State of Montana for failure to allow access to health insurance for same sex partners of the University System employees. In 2004 the Montana Supreme Court held that excluding same-sex couples from health insurance was a violation of equal protection principles because unmarried opposite sex couples could file affidavits in order to obtain coverage while same-sex couples could not.
The ACLU advocates on behalf of LGBT rights in many forums across Montana, including the Montana Legislature, city commissions and school districts.
For years, the legislature has maintained the status quo when it comes to LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination laws. Legislators continue to refuse to expand the state’s non-discrimination law to include sexual orientation and gender identity and expression. But in 2013 the ACLU of Montana was part of a coalition that successfully won removal of same-sex relations from Montana’s code defining “sexual deviant.” This victory was more than a decade in the making.
Since state lawmakers are unwilling to protect LGBT people from discrimination at this time, we’ve focused in recent years on city-based nondiscrimination ordinances. We worked with the Montana Human Rights Network and other partner organizations in 2010 to push for the adoption of a nondiscrimination ordinance in Missoula. In 2012 we again worked with allies in Helena to protect the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in matters of employment, housing and public accommodations. And ordinances passed in Butte in February 2014 and in Bozeman in June 2014. A similar ordinance is now in the works in Billings.
Fair is Fair Montana, the LGBT rights program at the ACLU of Montana, participates in public events, hosts trainings, phone banks and advocates in support of domestic partnerships for same-sex committed couples and equal protection for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Montanans in housing, employment and public accommodations.