Federal Judge Strikes Down Montana Marriage Ban

by Stephen Peters

WASHINGTON – Today U.S. District Judge Brian Morris ruled against Montana’s constitutional amendment banning marriage equality, making the Treasure State the latest to see such a ban struck down in court since the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its historic marriage rulings last June.  In Rolando v. Fox, the ACLU of Montana and private attorneys sued the state on behalf of same-sex couples who argue that Montana’s ban on marriage equality violates the U.S. Constitution. In his ruling, Judge Morris writes, “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. ...Montana no longer can deprive Plaintiffs and other same-sex couples of the chance to marry their loves.”

“Today’s federal court ruling in Montana is further proof that discriminatory bans on marriage equality have no place in our society – much less our laws,” said Human Rights Campaign (HRC) Legal Director Sarah Warbelow.  “Unfortunately, there still exists a confusing patchwork of marriage laws across America that puts countless same-sex couples and their families at risk of legal and economic harm. This is not only unsustainable, but it’s also unconstitutional. The U.S. Supreme Court should take up the issue to decide once and for all whether states can continue to treat committed and loving gay and lesbian couples as second class citizens.”

Judge Morris’ ruling takes effect immediately. Montana state officials now have the option to appeal today’s ruling to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which has already ruled state bans on marriage equality unconstitutional.  Last month a three-judge panel for the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously found that Idaho and Nevada’s marriage bans violate the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution on the basis of equal protection. Montana was the final state within the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals with a marriage ban still on the books.  

The Supreme Court of the United States has pending before it marriage cases out of four states, after the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned lower court rulings that had found Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee’s same-sex marriage bans unconstitutional.  The Sixth Circuit ruling marked the first time a federal appeals court ruled in favor of state marriage bans. Previously the Supreme Court declined to take up challenges to rulings from the Fourth, Seventh and Tenth Circuits, which all found state marriage bans unconstitutional.  The Supreme Court is under no obligation as to which case or cases - if any - it chooses to hear on appeal, although the loss in the Sixth Circuit creates a circuit court split, increasing the likelihood the Supreme Court takes up the issue of marriage.

Same-sex couples can legally marry in thirty-four states and the District of Columbia, while sixteen states have a law or constitutional amendment restricting marriage to the union of one man and one woman.  Learn more about this and other marriage equality cases at www.americansformarriageequality.org

The Human Rights Campaign is America’s largest civil rights organization working to achieve lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality. HRC envisions a world where LGBT people are embraced as full members of society at home, at work and in every community.



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