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ACLU Files for Summary Judgment in Case Challenging Montana's Gay Marriage Ban

The ACLU has filed for summary judgment on behalf of four same-sex couples in a case challenging Montana's ban on gay marriage, they report:

Montana“We don’t think there are any material facts in dispute, and so the case can be decided without a trial” says ACLU of Montana Legal Director Jim Taylor. “The ban on same sex marriage in the Montana Constitution is the same as the bans that were ruled unconstitutional in Idaho, and Nevada. The four couples in our case are situated the same as the couples who won in the Idaho and Nevada cases. We are raising the same issues that were raised in the Idaho and Nevada cases, and we are optimistic that the decisions of the Ninth Circuit in those cases will convince the District Court to rule in our favor.”

The Ninth Circuit Court ruled in a unanimous opinion last week that Idaho and Nevada’s bans on marriage for same-sex couples are unconstitutional as discrimination based on sexual orientation under the federal Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution. Montana is part of Ninth Circuit and federal district courts here use precedents from that circuit to make rulings.

“With the Ninth Circuit’s ruling, there is no reason to delay giving loving, committed same-sex couples in Montana the protections and respect that marriage provides,” says Elizabeth Gill, staff attorney with the ACLU Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender Project. “We are looking forward to the day when we can celebrate with them.”

Read the filing below:

4:14-cv-00040 #37 by Equality Case Files


Married Gay Couple Denied Communion Speak Out: VIDEO

Here's an update to the story involving Tom Wojtowick and Paul Huff, the married gay Catholic couple whose church has sid that, in order for the two to receive Holy Communion again, they must divorce.

The men spoke to the Great Falls Tribune about the discriminatory decision:

Couple"We're getting old," Huff said. "There is no other avenue for us in the Catholic Church to protect ourselves financially — our Social Security benefits or our home, which is in both our names. If something happened to one of us, we need some protection."

However Catholic officials failed to see substantial significance in such a distinction.

During subsequent discussions with Spiering and several officials from the Catholic Diocese of Great Falls – Billings, Wojtowick and Huff were told that to restore their full lives within the church they must first fulfill three requirements: obtain a civil divorce, discontinue living together and to write a public statement acknowledging marriage as being solely between and man and a women, and admitting they had made a mistake. "I basically said, if this is the way it is then I'm done," Huff said.

The head of the local diocese, Bishop Michael Warfel, visited the church, St. Leo the Great Catholic Church, last weekend. While a large number of people spoke out in support of Wojtowick and Huff, the overall situation remains unchanged.

KULR-8 reports on the bishop's visit:

He spoke for about 10 minutes and heard from a full house from young to old, mainly in support of Paul and Tom rejoining the church. “Gays and lesbians in this country have fought for every civil right; it's time they fought along with us for their faith,” said one speaker.

"Probably the issue of era, it's not just an issue for Lewistown, not just Montana,” said Bishop Michael Warfel. Yet, his presence brought no solutions. “For their situation Paul and Tom they are still not allowed to have communion, is that correct? That is the status quo right now,” said Bishop Michael Warfel.

According to the Billings Gazette, the couple have consulted with lawyers who believe that St. Leo the Great Catholic Church may have violated canon law.

Huff hasn’t returned to St. Leo’s. Wojtowick attends half the Mass, leaving before Communion is offered. Wojtowick believes the couple has a case, saying the actions taken against them are unlawful according to church law.

He has consulted with canon lawyers who agree. But he and Huff are waiting to see what final action Warfel will take in the case before they decide what to do.

However, Rev. Jean Collins at the Episcopal church in Lewistown has invited the men to attend her church where they are welcome to receive Communion.

Watch a KULR-8 interview with Wojtowick and Huff, AFTER THE JUMP...

Photo: The Billings Gazette

Continue reading "Married Gay Couple Denied Communion Speak Out: VIDEO" »


Catholic Church To Married Gay Couple: You Must Divorce In Order To Receive Communion Again

A Catholic church in Montana has told two gay men that they can no longer receive communion simply because of their gay marriage and, in order to do so again, they must file for divorce.  

The two men, Paul Huff, 66, and Tom Wojtowick, 73, have been together for over 30 years and were married in Seattle in 2013. They've attended Saint Leo The Great Catholic Church in the town of Lewistown since 2003 and have also been members of the church's choir. The've also now been denied participation in that church group.

The Great Falls Tribune reports on the events leading up to the ban:

Lewiston

According to Huff, four days after the Rev. Samuel Spiering was installed as the new administrator of St. Leo's, the priest left a phone message at their home asking that either Huff or Wojtowick return his call. "He said, 'I heard a rumor that you two got married,'" Huff recalled.

When Huff confirmed that he and Wojtowick had indeed been joined in a civil ceremony 15 months earlier, Spiering asked for both men to meet him at his office the next day. It was at that point that Spiering informed both men that because of their marriage, they could no longer receive the sacraments in the church or be part of any ministry.

Huff and Wojtowick were also told that to regain full privileges within St. Leo's, they must first obtain a divorce, cease living together and write a statement renouncing their prior marriage.

Speaking to to the Billings Gazette, Bishop Michael William Warfel of the Diocese of Great Falls-Billings attempted to justify the church's decision.

Bishop_copyThis is not animus against someone who happens to be a homosexual; this issue is the same-sex marriage,” he said. “A lot of people put those two together, and obviously there’s a connection, but it’s not the same thing.”

Warfel called same-sex marriage “the issue of our era,” acknowledging that in the U.S., polls show that support for it has edged higher than those who oppose it. But the fact remains that stands in conflict with Catholic teachings.

“As a Catholic bishop I have a responsibility to uphold our teaching of marriage between one man and one woman,” Warfel said. “And I think there’s very solid scriptural teaching on it and our sacred tradition is very strong on it.”

Huff and Wojtowick have received support from many of the church's congregation. Forty members have reportedly either voiced their disapproval of the church's offensive decision or have quit attending mass there altogether. One parishioner has suggested the title of a song sung at the church be changed from "All are Welcome" to "Some are Welcome." How apt.

Warfel met with parishioners yesterday to talk about the situation and says that he now needs time to take in their comments.


Billings, Montana Mayor Casts Deciding Vote To Kill LGBT Non-Discrimination Ordinance

HanelJust after 3 a.m. Tuesday morning, Billings, Montana Mayor Tom Hanel cast the deciding vote against a proposed non-discrimination ordinance (NDO) that would have protected Billings residents from discrimination based on their sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression. The Billings Gazette reports on how the 6-5 city council vote went down:

Hanel said he applied a standard from Rotary International to help him reach his decision: “I needed to ask myself, is this fair to everyone, beneficial to everyone? Will it build goodwill and friendships? I can’t say for sure,” he said of the NDO.

Shaun Brown, another council member who opposed the NDO, specifically opposed a provision in the ordinance “that would have prohibited discrimination in public accommodations — namely, restrooms and locker rooms” and “alternates that would have allowed for monetary damages to people successfully arguing they were discriminated against.”

The debate on the NDO seemed to drive a wedge between many in the Montana community. Denis Pitman, another “no” vote on the NDO commented that he was disappointed “how much this issue has divided the council and the community.”

Supporters of the NDO meanwhile were disheartened by the measure’s defeat. Said Shauna Goubeaux, who along with her wife Nicole have challenged Montana’s same-sex marriage ban

“My wife and I own our own home, and we’re employed by companies that are open and embracing” of their marriage, which occurred in another state, she said. “Our lives aren’t as impacted, but the lives of our friends are impacted by this vote.”

Bill Cromley, one of the five council members to vote in favor of the ordinance, told the council before Hanel cast the deciding vote, “There is a gay agenda. They want to be treated as real human beings.”

Cromley’s remarks did nothing to sway Hanel’s opinion that Billings is not ready for an NDO that would protect its LGBT citizenry. Hanel’s final advice to the crowd as the 8 1/2 hour meeting drew to a close was to “walk out of here as professionals”:

“We were all created equal,” he said. “If you can’t sit by someone who disagrees with you, shame on you.”


Montana Attorney General Asks Court To Uphold State's Gay Marriage Ban

Tim fox montana

On July 17th, Montana attorney general Tim Fox asked a federal court to uphold the state’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage in response to an attempt to overturn the 2004 law, reports Great Falls Trubine

In May, four couples filed a federal lawsuit arguing that the ban denies same-sex couples the protections and benefits of marriage afforded to other residents of the state.

According to Los Angeles TimesFox said that Montanans made their decision in 2004 when they voted for a constitutional provision that “only a marriage between one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in this state." 

Democratic Governor Steve Bullock has expressed his support for the plaintiffs.

Speaking to Great Falls Tribune, Jim Taylor, legal director of Montana’s American Civil Liberties Union, said that the case could take up to a year to resolve.

Same-sex marriage is legal in nineteen states and the District of Columbia. Bans that have been overturned in other states continue to make their way through the courts.

In June, Bozeman, the fourth-largest city in Montana, voted 4-0 to pass an LGBT non-discrimination ordinance, becoming the fourth city in the state to do so.


Bozeman, Montana Unanimously Passes LGBT Non-Discrimination Ordinance

Bozeman

Bozeman, Montana voted 4-0 on Monday night to pass an LGBT non-discrimination ordinance, becoming the fourth city in the state to do so, the Bozeman Daily Chronicle reports:

A few dozen people who turned out in support of the ordinance, many wearing white stickers with green lettering that read “Support! Fairness Dignity Security,” sat silently as commissioners swiftly cast their votes for the ordinance. No one spoke during public comment.

The ordinance, which is aimed at protecting gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people from discrimination in the workplace, housing and public accommodations, will go into effect in 30 days.

The silence at Monday night’s meeting stood in stark contrast to past meetings where supporters and opponents spent hours voicing their opinions about the ordinance.

Bozeman is the fourth-largest city in Montana, with a population of approximately 40,000 people.


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