HELENA, Mont. — A Montana judge on Thursday rejected a lawsuit that sought to extend to gay couples the same legal protections as married couples, saying in his decision that he can't grant the benefits partly because of the state's voter-approved constitutional definition of marriage as between a man and a woman.
Last year, the American Civil Liberties Union filed the lawsuit on behalf of the gay couples, arguing that the guarantees in the Montana Constitution of equal protection, privacy and dignity should require the state to afford the legal rights to the gay couples. The ACLU said it plans to appeal the case to the Montana Supreme Court.
The gay couples weren't asking for the right to marry. Rather, they wanted to make burial, health care and other decisions, while gaining such benefits as jointly filing taxes.
The state argued in court that the Legislature is free to create a separate class for couples regardless of sexual orientation. It argued such a policy choice should be made by the state, and not the courts.
District Judge Jeffrey Sherlock noted that the state government grants its gay employees the same employment-related benefits for their same-sex partners. The Montana Supreme Court, he added, said the state university system's past policy of barring such benefits to gay employees violated the equal protection provisions of the Montana Constitution.