HELENA — Four Montana same-sex couples filed a lawsuit in federal court in Great Falls Wednesday challenging the state’s 2004 constitutional ban on gay marriages.
The lawsuit comes in the wake of a multiple federal court rulings striking down similar bans in other states, and leaves South Dakota and North Dakota as the only states with a gay-marriage ban that hasn’t been challenged in court.
Jim Taylor, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Montana, which is representing the plaintiffs, called it a historic day, adding: “We definitely believe the time for the case is now.”
Three of the couples have been married in other states and want those marriages recognized in Montana, while the fourth couple said they would get married here if not for the ban.
Filing the lawsuit were Angie and Tonya Rolando of Great Falls, Shauna and Nicole Goubeaux of Billings, Ben Milano and Chase Weinhandl of Bozeman and Sue Hawthorne and Adel Johnson of Helena.
At issue is the constitutional amendment passed by Montana voters by a 2-to-1 margin in 2004 to ban same-sex marriages here.
Jeff Laszloffy, president of the Montana Family Foundation, which led the effort to pass the ban, said Wednesday that Montanans spoke strongly with their vote in 2004.
“They believe in marriage, they believe in family and they believe that marriage between a man and a woman is what’s best for kids,” he said. “Marriage should never be treated as a politically correct social experiment. It’s a vital, time-tested institution, and for the sake of our kids, it should be reinforced, not redefined.”
The lawsuit said Montana’s ban deprives same-sex couples from the important right of marriage, which has long been recognized and valued for its beneficial contribution to the welfare of society and to individual happiness.
“This has the effect not only of denying same-sex couples the freedom and dignity afforded to other Montanans, but also the legal protections, duties and benefits that marriage affords under federal and Montana law,” the lawsuit said.
Plaintiffs Shauna and Nicole Goubeaux were married in Iowa and have an adopted 1-year-old son, Aden, who was with them at a press conference in Helena.
“We want Aden to grow up knowing that we are a family like any other family,” Shauna Goubeaux said in a statement. “Marriage is part of being a family.”
The plaintiffs are being represented by both the ACLU of Montana and the ACLU Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Project.
Named as defendants in the lawsuit were Attorney General Tim Fox, the state’s chief legal officer; state Revenue Director Mike Kadas, who oversees state tax collections, and Cascade County Clerk of Court Faye McWilliams, who has the authority to issue or withhold a marriage license.
Fox’s spokesman John Barnes said the attorney general “will continue to defend Montana’s marriage amendment vigorously.”
The Republican attorney general’s spokesman cited the overwhelming passage of the 2004 amendment, which says “only marriage between one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in this state.”
Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock issued a statement in support of the couples’ challenge of state ban.
“Montanans cherish our freedom and recognize the individual dignity of every one of us,” Bullock said. “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.”
State Sen. Christine Kaufmann, D-Helena, who married her partner, Pat Kemp, in Iowa 10 months ago, praised the plaintiffs for filing the lawsuit.
“The whole gay and lesbian community stands to benefit, as well as the citizens of Montana who value equality,” she said.
U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, and House candidate John Lewis, both Democrats, issued statements supporting the lawsuit challenging the same-sex marriage ban.
Elizabeth Gill, an ACLU attorney, said, “It’s time for Montana to join the march toward equality for all loving and committed couples across the country.”
In addition to Taylor and Gill, the couples are represented by attorneys Ben Alke and James Goetz of Bozeman and Stuart Plunkett, Ruth Borenstein and Emily Regier of San Francisco and Ariel Ruiz of New York.
The ACLU of Montana also is continuing to pursuing a domestic-partnership lawsuit known as the Donaldson case in state court. The group said that case has a greater chance of giving same-sex couples legal protections in the short term as people in Montana continue to pursue marriage equality.