ACLU Asks Montana Supreme Court to Recognize Relationships of Same-Sex Couples

Affiliate: ACLU of Montana
April 13, 2012 10:22 am

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ACLU of Montana
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Domestic Partnership Recognition Would Mean Fair Treatment for All Committed Couples

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MISSOULA, MT — The fight in Montana for domestic partnership recognition for same-sex couples reached the state’s top court today, where lawyers for the American Civil Liberties Union appealed a district-court ruling that had dismissed the case. The arguments are part of an appeal of a district court decision dismissing the same-sex domestic partnership case, Donaldson and Guggenheim v. State of Montana.

“The Montana Constitution guarantees fair and equal treatment to all people, including gay and lesbian couples,” said lead attorney, James Goetz, of the Bozeman, MT, law firm Goetz, Gallik & Baldwin, who is acting as a cooperating attorney. “This case is about giving loving, committed couples the recognition they deserve and ensuring that all families can thrive in Montana. Domestic partnerships are a way for the Montana Constitution’s guarantees of human dignity and protection for all people to be upheld for same-sex couples.”

Without domestic partnership recognition, the plaintiffs in the case have been denied the ability to take care of each other and their families. Denise Boettcher of Laurel was denied bereavement leave when her partner Kellie Gibson’s father died. Mary Leslie of Bozeman lost her home because she was ineligible for worker's compensation death benefits when her partner was killed in an accident. When Mary Anne Guggenheim had a hip replacement, the doctor’s office staff would not speak to plaintiff Jan Donaldson, Guggenheim’s partner of 29 years, without a release.

“We love each other and want to be able to take care of one another and our family, just like everyone else,” said Donaldson. “We would never try to tell other people how to live their lives, and we’re just asking for the same respect.”

Sixty-six Montana religious leaders signed onto an amicus brief supporting the ACLU’s appeal to the Montana Supreme Court, stating that the couples in the case “have formed the kinds of partnerships that nourish, strengthen and stabilize congregations and communities… they deserve to have their relationships and families recognized and protected by the state.”

“It isn’t the government’s place to stand in the way of someone’s happiness just because some people may be uncomfortable when it comes to same-sex couples,” said Niki Zupanic, public policy director of the ACLU of Montana.

Plaintiffs in the case are Guggenheim and Donaldson of Helena, Stacey Haugland and Mary Leslie of Bozeman, Mike Long and Rich Parker of Bozeman, MJ Williams and Nancy Owens of Basin, Rick Wagner and Gary Stallings of Butte and Boettcher and Gibson of Laurel.

In addition to Goetz, the couples are represented by Jon Ellingson, legal director of the ACLU of Montana; Elizabeth Gill, a staff attorney with the ACLU’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Project; Ben Alke of Goetz, Gallik & Baldwin P.C.; Betsy Griffing; and Ruth Borenstein and Neil Perry of the law firm Morrison & Foerster LLP.

Additional information about the case, biographies of the plaintiffs and links to videos of the plaintiffs can be found at

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