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Federal Judge Strikes Down Montana's Ban on Same-Sex Marriage

6a00d8341c730253ef01b8d090c428970c-800wiU.S. District Judge Brian Morris (pictured) has ruled that Montana's ban on same-sex marriage violates the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment, thus making it unconstitutional. Morris' order is effective immediately and is not stayed, though the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court may still intervene and stay the decision. As Think Progress reports, Morris relied heavily on the Ninth Circuit's decision which struck down marriage bans in Idaho and Nevada but also tackled head on the question of Baker v. Nelson's role in determining whether there exists a constitutional right to marriage, a subject even more in the spotlight now following the Sixth Circuit's ruling which upheld marriage bans:

Montana, like many states before it, had argued that Baker v. Nelson, a 1972 case about same-sex marriage that the Supreme Court decided not to hear, was controlling and thus the court could not challenge the precedent. Here’s how Morris handled that argument:

"Defendants contend that Plaintiffs’ complaint presents the same issue rejected in Baker: whether a constitutional right to same-sex marriage exists. The Court agrees. Defendants further argue that no sufficient doctrinal developments have occurred to render this issue a substantial federal question. The Court disagrees."

Morris also took time to opine about how Montana’s same-sex families will benefit from this ruling:

"These families want for their children what all families in Montana want. They want to provide a safe and loving home in which their children have the chance to explore the world in which they live. They want their children to have the chance to discover their place in this world. And they want their children to have the chance to fulfill their highest dreams. These families, like all of us, want their children to adventure into the world without fear of violence; to achieve all that their talent and perseverance allows without fear of discrimination; and to love themselves so that they can love others. No family wants to deprive its precious children of the chance to marry the loves of their lives. Montana no longer can deprive Plaintiffs and other same-sex couples of the chance to marry their loves."

Read the full decision below:

Montana Same-Sex Marriage Decision by jsnow489

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Federal Judge Signals He is Ready to Rule on Marriage Equality in Montana

U.S. District Judge Brian Morris (pictured) canceled a hearing set for November 20 in a case challenging Montana's ban on gay marriage, signaling that he is ready to rule.

The AP reports: Morris

The four gay couples who sued to overturn the ban along with Attorney General Tim Fox, who is defending the ban, agreed that U.S. District Judge Brian Morris has enough information to decide the case without the formal hearing that had been scheduled next Thursday.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals recently struck down similar gay-marriage bans in Idaho and Nevada. The American Civil Liberties Union of Montana expects a favorable ruling because the 9th Circuit includes Montana.

The ACLU filed for summary judgment in the case on October 15.

Said ACLU of Montana Legal Director Jim Taylor at the time:

“We don’t think there are any material facts in dispute, and so the case can be decided without a trial. 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 lawsuit was filed in May on behalf of four same-sex couples.

State attorneys plan to continue defending the ban, according to the AP, but Governor Steve Bullock has spoken out in favor of the couples' right to marry:

"Montanans cherish our freedom and recognize the individual dignity of every one of us. The time has come for our state to recognize and celebrate - not discriminate against - two people who love one another, are committed to each other, and want to spend their lives together."


Montana Ku Klux Klan Group Hopes to Bring in New Members With a Pro-Gay, Anti-Racist Message

Ku Klux Klan

A new Ku Klux Klan group in Montana claims to no longer hold racist or homophobic views, reports WMAZ.

Screen Shot 2014-11-10 at 10.07.23 AMJohn Abarr [right], who formed the Rocky Mountain Knights specifically to fight against a “new world order," said the group will not discriminate based on race, religion, or sexual orientation.

However, Montana Human Rights Network co-director Rachel Carroll-Rivas said that even with Abarr adapting a more tolerant viewpoint, she remains suspicious about the "new world order" statement, which she said has roots in anti-Semitism.

According to Bradley Jenkins, Imperial Wizard of the United Klans of America, Abarr is “going against everything the by-laws of the constitution of the KKK say. He’s trying to hide behind the KKK to further his political career.”


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.


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