A same-sex marriage ban, enacted by Montana voters in 2004, was overturned in federal court. U.S. District Judge Brian Morris declared the ban unconstitutional on Wednesday and it was rendered effective immediately.
The decision arose from the U.S. District Court for the District of Montana, Great Falls Division. Judge Morris, an Obama appointee, filed his written opinion on November 19, 2014. His basis for overruling the ban is the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment. While sympathizing with the fact that not all Montana citizens will be happy with his decision, Morris emphasized that federal law favors protecting minorities over majority will.
Government reaction to the decision is mixed. State Attorney General Tim Fox announced plans to appeal the ruling but is not blocking the distribution of same-sex marriage licenses. He indicated that it is his duty to uphold Montana law and continue the legal process until all remedies are exhausted.
Governor Steve Bullock instructed his administration to adopt procedures so same-sex couples receive legal recognition and the same rights as all married people, no matter the gender of the partners. State congressional representatives celebrated the ruling with only one member expressing disappointment.
Park County was the first to issue a same-sex marriage license in Montana after receiving news of the overturned ban. That couple scheduled their ceremony this morning. Another couple received their license from Missoula County, with no announcement of when they will complete their ceremony. The largest county, Yellowstone, started issuing licenses today.
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned similar bans in Idaho and Nevada this September. Montana is also within the ninth circuit and Morrison cited that opinion in his own ruling—indicating it was time for Montana to join the national trend that supports same-sex marriage.
Montana, along with South Carolina and Kansas, were the only remaining states to fight court decisions overturning gay marriage bans. Including Montana, gay couples can now marry in 32 states and some counties in Missouri Kansas, and Washington D.C.
Two plaintiffs in the lawsuit, Angie and Tonya Rolando, welcome the ruling. “Love won today,” Angie Rolando stated while also announcing plans to pick up their marriage license today. They went shopping for wedding rings on Wednesday after the ruling was announced.
The Pride Foundation considered the ruling “historic” and issued a statement commending Judge Morris for his decision. Indicating that this upholds Montana’s values of freedom and fairness, Kim Leighton, regional development organizer for the foundation, indicated that this was a great start in granting equal protection to same-sex couples.
“LGBTQ couples in Montana have paid taxes, voted, served in the military, and ran small businesses,” explained Leighton. Reminding people that they participate in society just as straight couples, Leighton continued, “Today’s decision recognizes the important role LGBTQ people play in our economy and communities by ensuring they are also able to get married locally.”
The ACLU and Pride Foundation are holding marriage celebrations throughout Montana to commemorate overturning the same-sex marriage ban. Events occurred in Helena, Missoula, Bozeman, Great Falls and Butte. Wedding officiants provided by the ACLU will also be available at each courthouse.
By Jocelyn Mackie