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Four couples sue Montana over same-sex marriage ban

HELENA — Four gay couples filed a lawsuit Wednesday challenging Montana’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, making North Dakota and South Dakota the only two states with similar bans and no lawsuits seeking to overturn them.

The Montana suit, filed in federal court in Great Falls, alleges the state’s ban denies same-sex couples the freedom and dignity afforded to other Montanans, and denies them the state and federal legal protections and benefits that come with marriage.

“We want Aden to grow up knowing that we are a family like any other family,” plaintiff 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 Montana attorney general’s office did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment on the lawsuit. But Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock released a statement in support of the couples.

“Montanans cherish our freedom and recognize the individual dignity of every one of us,” Bullock said. “The time has come for our state to recognize and celebrate - not discriminate against - two people who love one another, are committed to each other, and want to spend their lives together.”

In addition to Shauna and Nicole Goubeaux, the plaintiffs are Angie and Tonya Rolando; Ben Milano and Chase Weinhandl; and Sue Hawthorne and Adel Johnson. The Goubeauxes, Weinhandls, and Hawthorne and Johnson all were married in other states.

Johnson said she should have the same rights as other married people. She and Hawthorne were married in Washington in January. But as a fourth-generation Montanan, Johnson would like to wed in her home state. “I would love to get married here,” she said.

State marriage bans have been falling around the country since the U.S. Supreme Court last year struck down part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act.

After Montana’s lawsuit, only North Dakota and South Dakota will remain as having gay marriage bans that are not under review, according to the Human Rights Campaign. However, gay couples say they are planning to file legal challenges in those states soon.

Montana voters in 2004 approved a state constitutional amendment providing that only a marriage between one man and one woman is valid or recognized as a marriage in the state.

Jeff Laszloffy of the Montana Family Foundation, a group that led the effort to pass the amendment, said Wednesday the move isn’t unexpected given the challenges to similar bans around the country.

“We just believe the people spoke clearly when they passed the initiative in 2004 by 70 percent,” he said. “Marriage should never be treated as a politically correct social experiment. It is a vital, time-tested institution, and for the sake of our kids it should be reinforced, not redefined.”

He said the group plans to file briefs in the case in support of the ban.

An attorney for the couples, Elizabeth Gill of the American Civil Liberties Union, said in a statement that it is “time for Montana to join the march toward equality for all loving and committed couples across the country.”

“We definitely believe the time for this is now,” Montana ACLU Legal Director Jim Taylor said.

He said if the case moves quickly, it could take nine months to a year before a decision is reached.

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