Voting and Court Cases
In 2004, 67 percent of Montana’s voters approved Initiative 96 to amend the state constitution and ban same-sex unions.
Positive news came in 2009 with the proposal of a domestic partnership bill that would have given couples basic rights like hospital visitation and joint ownership but the measure was brought down in the legislature.
The ACLU filed a case in July 2010 on behalf of seven gay couples in Montana. The lawsuit was filed against the state on the grounds that despite the gay marriage ban, the Montana Constitution
“guarantees of privacy, dignity, and the pursuit of life’s basic necessities and its guarantees of equal protection and due process” meaning the state has to offer gay couples the same rights it lends to heterosexual couples with marriage. The case was dismissed in April 2011 with the following decision:
This Court, in the past, has been willing to exercise its judicial power when it found a violation of the Montana Constitution as it related to a specific statute applying to gay people. … However, what Plaintiffs want here is not a declaration of the unconstitutionality of a specific statute or set of statutes, but rather a direction to the legislature to enact a statutory arrangement. This Court finds Plaintiffs’ proposal, although appealing, to be unprecedented and uncharted in Montana law.
District Judge Jeffrey Sherlock added that ruling in the plaintiff’s favor would violate the voter-selected amendment.
The Montana Constitution reads:
(1) The following marriages are prohibited:
(2) (d) A marriage between persons of the same sex.
Parties to a marriage prohibited under this section who cohabit after removal of the impediment are lawfully married as of the date of the removal of the impediment.
(3) Children born of a prohibited marriage are legitimate.
(4) A contractual relationship entered into for the purpose of achieving a civil relationship that is prohibited under subsection (1) is void as against public policy
But, this does not mean that civil unions or other legal relationships and rights are illegal. For instance, gay singles in Montana can adopt a child but gay couples cannot.
However, polls show that things in Montana regarding gay marriage are not as they were in 2004. Igor Volsky, of ThinkProgress, refers to a Public Policy Polling poll that demonstrated that “sixty-two percent of Montana voters ‘want same-sex couples to have legal equality’…but 51 percent still oppose marriage equality.”
No real opportunities to change the state of marriage equality have presented themselves but at least LGBT action is still in motion. The Montana Repertory Theatre has raised awareness about gay marriage by presenting Standing On Ceremony: The Gay Marriage Plays in November of 2011. The production was intended to be humorous and entertaining while simultaneously discussing a civil rights issue. To top it off, all proceeds went to Pride Foundation.
- Can same-sex couples marry in Montana? No.
- Can same-sex couples enter into other legal relationships? Explicitly, no.