ACLU to Ask Montana Supreme Court for Equal Benefits for Gay Employees of the University of Montana System

March 10, 2003

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

MISSOULA, MT -Today the American Civil Liberties Union filed its appeal to the Montana Supreme Court to require the University of Montana System to provide lesbian and gay employees an equal opportunity to purchase health insurance and other employee benefits for their partners. 

"The Montana University System is wrong to deny lesbian and gay employees equal benefits," said Beth Brenneman, Legal Director of the ACLU of Montana. "This policy runs contrary to the current trend wherein many other university systems have chosen to do the right thing and provide these benefits. Lesbian and gay employees deserve the same compensation as all other employees."

Married employees at the Montana University System's seven campuses have the option of providing health insurance, disability coverage and other benefits for their spouses. Unmarried, committed opposite-sex couples can provide their partners with benefits by signing a sworn statement of common-law marriage. Similar affidavits are currently used to establish a same-sex partner's eligibility to participate in domestic partner insurance plans.

The ACLU originally filed the lawsuit in 2002 on behalf of two employees of the university system and their partners. The suit charges that the university's policy violates the Montana Constitution's equal protection guarantees and the right to pursue life's basic necessities. In November 2002, the district court judge dismissed the case without a trial.

"The Montana University System has chosen to give in to political pressure rather than do right by its lesbian and gay employees," said Holly Franz, an ACLU cooperating attorney. "We will fight this hypocrisy as long as it takes to get equality for all employees."

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