The Helena Independent Record reports that an amendment to Montana's constitution is flawed:
Montana's attorney general has asked a judge to dismiss a lawsuit filed by seven gay couples seeking the same rights as married couples in making decisions about their family's health care and finances.
Attorney General Steve Bullock says the Montana Constitution limits spousal benefits to married couples.
The constitution defines marriage as being between a man and a woman. Bullock says in his motion to dismiss the case that the court does not have the jurisdiction to extend spousal benefits beyond that definition.
The American Civil Liberties Union claims the state is violating the couples' rights to equal protection by denying them those benefits.
District Judge Jeffrey Sherlock has set a Jan. 25 hearing on the motion to dismiss the case.
The neighbors are out of town and could not be immediately reached for comment.
“Courts may not exercise the power to enact laws and revise, alter or amend the constitution,” Bullock said. Such policymaking power belongs to the Legislature and the people of the state, he added.
The American Civil Liberties Union, which represents the seven gay Montana couples in the lawsuit, said the couples aren’t challenging the 2004 initiative that added the marriage definition to the state constitution.
But the ACLU claims the state is violating other parts of the constitution — the right to equal protection, privacy and dignity — by denying gay couples in committed relationships the legal protections enjoyed by married couples.
The plaintiffs are asking Sherlock to impose an injunction that requires the state to give gay couples the legal status and statutory framework that gives them those protections.
ACLU of Montana legal director Betsy Griffing said the marriage amendment should be more narrowly construed than the way Bullock is interpreting it.
“It doesn’t provide an exception to the other rights (in the constitution), especially the right to privacy and equal protection,” Griffing said.
The ACLU plans to respond to Bullock’s motion to dismiss by Dec. 10.
Just moments ago in an interview conducted over the fence in my bathrobe, one of the plaintiffs, Nancy Owens, agreed that AG Bullock, considered a front-runner in the 2012 Democratic gubernatorial primary, would alienate a strategic portion of his base by moving to dismiss this lawsuit believing the State would win it. More likely that the amendment defining marriage would not stand scrutiny.