Montana Gay-Marriage Ban Challenged Amid Flood of Rulings

Montana’s ban on gay marriage was challenged by four couples who say the prohibition violates their constitutional rights, just days after similar lawsuits prevailed in Pennsylvania and Oregon.

Montana’s prohibition on same-sex weddings contradicts the state’s “long history of respect for individual liberty,” the couples said in a complaint filed today in federal court in Great Falls, Montana. Governor Steve Bullock said in an e-mailed statement that the court should overturn the ban.

“The paramount significance of marriage to lesbian and gay couples in Montana is no different than it is to different-sex couples,” according to the complaint. “Yet, Montana law specifically singles out same-sex couples for exclusion from this important right.”

Yesterday, Pennsylvania became the 25th state to have gay marriage declared legal by voters, lawmakers or courts when a judge struck down its ban. Oregon’s same sex-marriage ban, having gone undefended by state officials, was struck down on May 19.

A U.S. Supreme Court ruling on June 26 triggered the flood of lawsuits after the high court overturned part of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act that said the federal government could recognize only heterosexual marriage.

‘Individual Dignity’

“Montanans cherish our freedom and recognize the individual dignity of every one of us,” said Bullock, a Democrat. “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.”

With today’s suit, North Dakota and South Dakota are the only states remaining where constitutional amendments banning gay marriage haven’t been challenged in court, James Esseks, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union, said in a phone interview.

In other states, such as Indiana and Wyoming, lawmakers have banned same-sex unions by defining marriage in statutes as only between a man and a woman, he said.

The Montana lawsuit, led by the ACLU, names state Attorney General Tim Fox and other officials. A spokesman for Fox didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Three of the couples who sued were wed in states where gay marriage is legal -- Hawaii, Washington and Iowa -- and want Montana to recognize their vows. In the complaint, they compare Montana’s ban to its earlier prohibitions against marriage among slaves, interracial marriage and weddings between people of different religions.

A fourth couple, who lives in Great Falls, Montana, has been together for five years and seeks to marry in the state.

The case is Rolando v. Fox, 4:14-cv-00040, U.S. District Court, District Of Montana (Great Falls).

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