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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, November 21 - Volume 42 Issue 47
Montana marriage ban falls, couples marry
Judge rejects Baker v. Nelson precedent
Section One
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Montana marriage ban falls, couples marry
Judge rejects Baker v. Nelson precedent

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

U.S. District Judge Brian Morris struck down Montana's ban on same-sex marriage in a ruling delivered November 19.

'The Court PERMANENTLY ENJOINS the State of Montana and its officers, employees, agents, and political subdivisions from enforcing [the ban],' Morris wrote in his opinion. 'This injunction shall take effect immediately.'

And it did. Within hours after Morris published his ruling, Gay and Lesbian couples began marrying in Montana.

Among the first Montana couples to get their licenses on November 19 were Amy Wagner and Karen Langebeck, who have been together for 22 years.

'Being able to get married and introduce Karen as my wife - that's a big deal. Now I have a way to describe this relationship that everybody understands,' Wagner said.

In Yellowstone County, Montana's most populous, the clerk of the district court said her office is ready to issue licenses.

'For my office, nothing will be different than any other day,' Kristie Lee Boelter told reporters.

Baker v. Nelson
In his ruling, Morris explicitly rejected the reasoning of Baker v. Nelson, the case which the Sixth Circuit Court used as its justification for upholding marriage bans in four states. Baker was a 1971 ruling in which the U.S. Supreme Court said that marriage laws were not a proper issue for federal courts.

Morris disagreed, saying that legal developments since 1971 make the Baker precedent outdated.

'Defendants contend that Plaintiffs' complaint presents the same issue rejected in Baker: whether a constitutional right to same-sex marriage exists. The Court agrees,' he wrote.

But 'Defendants further argue that no sufficient doctrinal developments have occurred to render this issue a substantial federal question. The Court disagrees...

'Baker no longer precludes consideration of challenges to the constitutionality of laws that prohibit same-sex marriage,' Morris added.

Noting prior Ninth Circuit Court rulings on LGBT rights - including marriage - Morris ruled that marriage laws must meet the standard of 'heightened scrutiny' which banning same-sex marriage does not.

'Defendants [representing the state of Montana] fail to put forth any persuasive argument that the discriminatory means employed by these laws relate substantially to the achievement of any important governmental objectives,' he concluded.

Attorney General appeals
While Montana's Democratic governor greeted Morris's ruling enthusiastically, the state's Republican Attorney General appealed the decision.

'Today's decision ensures we are closer to fulfilling our promise of freedom, dignity, and equality for all Montanans,' Governor Steve Bullock said in a press statement.

'It is a day to celebrate our progress, while recognizing the qualities that bind us as Montanans: a desire to make a good life for ourselves and our families, while providing greater opportunities to the next generation. I have instructed my administration to quickly take all appropriate steps to ensure that we are recognizing and affording the same rights and responsibilities to legally married same-sex couples that all married Montanans have long enjoyed.'

Montana Attorney General Tim Fox, on the other hand, said he had a 'sworn duty to uphold and defend Montana's constitution until such time as there is no further review or no appeal can be made in a court of law.'

Fox promised to 'appeal this ruling in light of the fact that there are conflicting federal court decisions and no final word from the U.S. Supreme Court.'

The Ninth Circuit Court, which has jurisdiction over Montana, has already ruled in favor of marriage equality, however, so there seems to be no path forward for Fox's appeal, short of going directly to the U.S. Supreme Court.

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Montana marriage ban falls, couples marry
Judge rejects Baker v. Nelson precedent

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