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ACLU appeals dismissal of same-sex couples' benefits to Montana high court

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website] on Monday filed a brief [text, PDF] in its appeal [JURIST report] to the Montana Supreme Court [official website] arguing that denying partnership benefits to same-sex couples violates the Montana state constitution [text, PDF]. The ACLU opined that a district judge's April dismissal [JURIST report] of a lawsuit by six same-sex couples in Donaldson and Guggenheim v. State of Montana [ACLU backgrounder] was a breach of separation of powers [press release], saying that courts have a duty to interpret whether or not actions by the legislature or the executive branch are unconstitutional. The same-sex couples in this case are not seeking the right to wed, but rather that they want to be able to make decisions like married couples about their families' health care, finances, inheritance and burials. In its brief, the ACLU argued, "[t]he State's exclusion of same-sex couples from state statutory benefits and obligations solely due to the fact that they are in committed, intimate same-sex relationships infringes Plaintiffs' constitutional rights of privacy, dignity, and the pursuit of safety, health and happiness." Montana Attorney General Steve Bullock [official profile] is expected to file a response by December 14.

Many states continue to debate issues pertaining to same-sex marriage [JURIST news archives]. Last week, a New Jersey court ruled [JURIST report] that a marriage equality lawsuit, which seeks to overturn New Jersey's civil unions law on equal protection grounds, could proceed. In October, the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network [advocacy website] filed suit [JURIST report] in federal court arguing that the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) [text; JURIST news archives] unconstitutionally denies gay couples equal protection under the law. Despite DOMA, same-sex marriage is currently legal in New York, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, Iowa, Connecticut, Washington, D.C. and within the Squamish Tribe [JURIST reports]. Civil unions or domestic partnerships are currently legal in Maine, Illinois, Delaware, Hawaii, California, Wisconsin, Nevada, Oregon and Washington and await ratification in Rhode Island [JURIST reports].

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Paper Chase is JURIST's real-time legal news service, powered by a team of 30 law student reporters and editors led by law professor Bernard Hibbitts at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. As an educational service, Paper Chase is dedicated to presenting important legal news and materials rapidly, objectively and intelligibly in an accessible format.

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