Couples Target Montana Ban on Gay Marriage

     BOZEMAN, Mont. (CN) - Four Montana couples challenged the state's ban on same-sex marriage Wednesday, days after federal judges struck down similar bans in Oregon and Pennsylvania.
     Three lesbian couples and one gay couple filed a federal lawsuit in Great Falls, challenging a 2004 amendment to Montana's constitution that recognizes only marriage between one man and one woman.
     "The paramount significance of marriage to gay and lesbian couples in Montana is no different than it is to different-sex couples," the couples claim. "Yet, Montana law specifically singles out same-sex couples for exclusion from this important right."
     This exclusion "contrasts sharply with the state's long history of respect for individual liberty," they argue.
     Though seven other couples sued the state in 2010 for domestic-partner protections, Wednesday's complaint is the first seeking the right to marry or to have out-of-state marriages recognized in Montana.
     Plaintiffs are Angie and Tonya Rolando of Great Falls, Shauna and Nicole Goubeaux of Billings, Ben Milano and Chase Weinhandl of Bozeman, and Sue Hawthorne and Adel Johnson of Helena.
     "We want Aden to grow up knowing that we are a family like any other family," Shauna Goubeaux said in a statement of her and wife Nicole's 1-year-old son. "Marriage is part of being a family. By being plaintiffs in this case, we are showing him his mommies will stand up for what is right and stand up for him."
     The couples argue that the state's gay marriage ban stigmatizes their relationships as "unworthy of recognition."
     By enforcing the discriminatory ban, state officials "send a purposeful message that they view lesbians, gay men, and their children as second-class citizens who are undeserving of the legal sanction, respect, protections, and support that heterosexual couples and their families are able to enjoy through marriage," the couples claim.
     They are represented by Ben Alke of Goetz, Baldwin & Geddes in Bozeman and by the ACLU of Montana.
     "It isn't the government's place to stand in the way of someone's happiness," Jim Taylor, legal director of the ACLU of Montana, said in a statement Thursday.
     "It's the government's place to provide equal protection under the law. Excluding same-sex couples from marriage is a clear violation of our nation's guarantee of equal protection. Every couple should have the freedom to marry and to have the legal protections to care for one another that marriage provides."
     The lawsuit comes on the heels of federal court rulings rejecting same-sex marriage bans in Oregon and Pennsylvania, issued Monday and Tuesday, respectively.
     Gay and lesbian couples can now marry in 19 states and the District of Columbia.