In a 4-3 ruling, the Montana Supreme Court on Monday said that same-sex couples in the state seeking to be granted the same benefits as married couples are making an “overly broad” request.
The ruling affirmed one rendered by a lower court, but leaves the door open for homosexual activists to try another tactic later.
“Society should protect and strengthen marriage, not undermine it,” said Jordan Lorence, senior counsel for the Alliance Defending Freedom, which filed an amicus brief in the case.
“This lawsuit sought to undermine Montana’s legal definition of marriage as a man and a woman by eliminating the state’s ability to distinguish between married and unmarried couples for the purpose of benefits. Marriage expresses the truth that men and women bring distinct, irreplaceable gifts to family life. The state is on firm ground to recognize and promote that ideal for the good of society.”
According to the lawsuit, filed in 2010, the plaintiffs were not seeking to challenge the state’s marriage statute overtly, but felt the state unconstitutionally keeps them from accessing the same benefits as married couples.
“The District Court concluded that granting the relief sought — ordering the Legislature to enact a statutory scheme to address Plaintiffs’ goals of achieving equal treatment — would be an inappropriate exercise of judicial power,” the majority wrote.
“The District Court was also concerned that granting broad declaratory relief would likely impact a large number of statutes in potentially unknown and unintended ways. …The
District Court determined that while this had some appeal, such relief was ‘unprecedented and uncharted in Montana law.’ The District Court concluded that ‘the proper ways to deal with Plaintiffs’ concerns are specific suits directed at specific, identifiable statutes.’ ”
The substance of the ruling, at just seven pages, was overshadowed by the 109-page dissent written by Justice James C. Nelson and partially joined by two others, declaring the case to be an issue of civil rights, and the one over which he has most strongly disagreed with his colleagues in the course of his career.
Justice Jim Rice, however, concurred.
“I appreciate the deeply-held feelings and beliefs of the Plaintiffs and condemn any acts of cruelty they have suffered, some of which are referenced in their affidavits,” he wrote. “Yet, given the long-standing legal protections and exclusive treatment of marriage, with its corresponding benefits and obligations, and the incorporation of those principles into the Montana Constitution by the citizens of Montana, Plaintiffs’ equal protection claim must fail.”
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Read the amicus brief Alliance Defending Freedom filed in Donaldson v. State of Montana.