Split decision in Montana
 

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posted Friday, December 21, 2012 - Volume 40 Issue 51

Split decision in Montana
Court rejects DP benefits; Helena bans anti-Gay discrimination
by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Montana's highest court rejected a suit on December 17 to guarantee domestic partner benefits for same-sex couples, but the next day Helena's City Council unanimously passed a measure banning discrimination against LGBT residents.

In a 4-3 decision, the Montana Supreme Court upheld a lower court ruling that only opposite-sex couples are entitled to spousal benefits under the state's constitutional amendment defining marriage as a union of a man and a woman.

In 2010 six same-sex couples sued for equal rights and benefits, including:

o Inheritance rights, and the ability to make burial decisions and receive workers compensation death benefits,

o The right to file joint tax returns, claim spousal tax exemptions, or take property tax benefits,

o The right to make health care decisions for a spouse when that person cannot, and

o Legal protection in cases of separation and divorce, including child custody and support.

DISCRIMINATION CHARGED
James Goetz, the attorney for the couples, said in April arguments before the high court that his clients were not asking to for the right to marry, but they were entitled to make the same decisions about their families' health care and finances as married couples under the Montana Constitution, and that the state's refusal to expressly provide those rights was discriminatory.

A Helena district court judge dismissed the suit last year after state attorneys argued that spousal benefits are constitutionally limited to opposite-sex couples.

The state's Supreme Court ruled that the suit was 'overly broad' since it asked the courts to intervene 'without identifying a specific statute or statutes that impose the discrimination they allege.' The justices added that plaintiffs could modify their suit and resubmit it at a later date.

The day after the Supreme Court issued its decision, the Helena City Council unanimously passed an ordinance banning discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in housing, employment, and many areas of public accommodation.

'I believe, and I felt the commissioners believe, that being LGBT is part of the human condition,' said Commissioner Katherine Haque-Hausrath, the sponsor of the measure. 'It's something that people cannot change, and we believe that people should not be discriminated against because of their sexual orientations.'

TRANSGENDERS TESTIFY
According to the Billings Gazette, some 30 supporters of the measure, including Transgender people, spoke in their allotted hour. Fourteen people spoke against the measure in their hour, with both sides leaving many people still in line when their hour elapsed.

Eight of the 14 people speaking against the measure mentioned what some called the 'bathroom' or 'locker room' objection - that some people might use the protections for Trans people to gain entry to such facilities for sinister purposes.

An amendment by Commissioner Dick Thweatt was added to the measure on December 4, providing that in any place where people 'ordinarily appear in the nude,' users may be required to use the facilities designated for their anatomical sex, regardless of their gender identity.



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