Montana Supreme Court Rejects Case Demanding Equal Benefits for Gay Couples in 4-3 Decision

The Montana Supreme Court has sided with a lower court judge who dismissed a case brought by the ACLU demanding equal benefits for same-sex couples.

MontanaJudge Jeffrey Sherlock dismissed the case in April 2011, saying that an amendment to the Montana Constitution that defines marriage as being between a man and a woman had already settled the question, adding that the question of granting gay couples the benefits, without allowing them to get married, was best left to the legislative process. Sherlock also said that a ruling to force state lawmakers to write new laws would be an inappropriate breach of the separation of powers between the three branches of government.

In November, the ACLU said that Sherlock "abdicated his responsibility" in dismissing the case. They brought their appeal before the Supreme Court in April 2012.

The AP reports on today's decision:

The court wrote in Monday's 4-3 decision the request was "overly broad" and sided with a lower court's decision last year to dismiss the lawsuit. But the Supreme Court left the door open for the couples to modify their request and try again.

The couples are not asking to for the right to marry. Instead, they argue the state is constitutionally required to let them make the same decisions about their families' health care and finances as married couples.

The state has argued that spousal benefits are limited by definition to married couples. It argues that any decision to expand them needs to be made by the Legislature.

Here's the ACLU's information page on the case.


  1. Steve says

    State courts are useless. This is what federal courts are for. Unfortunately, such a case would then end up with the Supreme Court, which is horrible in its own way.

  2. Tom says

    Montana is the new Mississippi of the Gay Rights Movement. The sate of Mississippi did everything they could do to stop black people from having Equal and Civil Rights in the 1950’s and 60’s. Now it is Montana who is trying to stop Equal Rights and Civil Rights for gay people in 2012. We all know how the south is still viewed today as racist haters for what they did to the African Americans.

  3. Sargon Bighorn says

    Lookit, the door to equality has been opened a bit wider with three states added to the list granting civil marriage equality. Washington folks ski and hike and do stuff in Montana it’s a lovely state physically. It’s just a matter of time before that nut is cracked wide open and the Bell of Freedom rings. Fear not Montana, you too shall taste equality.

  4. jay_max says

    Tom – you obviously didn’t read the article. As a native Montanan, I think you couldn’t be more off the mark in your characterization of my home state.

  5. Bingo says

    This was a seriously deficient lawsuit (Ari? comment?)

    The ACLU attacked the “statutory scheme” of the state, and the court, quite reasonably, came back with: WTF? name some statutes and show how your clients are hurt by them and then we’ll have something to talk about. Makes you wonder what the ACLU was up to. The case seems more like a publicity generator than a serious attempt at a ruling in our favor.

    The court was very divided, and not just as you’d expect along the 4-3 lineup if you read what the various justices wrote. These plaintiffs have a shot at winning, but they won’t win with a bogus suit like this, nor should they.

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