ACLU Aims for Same-Sex Rights in MT Constitution - ABC FOX MONTANA NEWS, WEATHER, SPORTS - KTMF/KWYB

ACLU Aims for Same-Sex Rights in MT Constitution

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MISSOULA -

Same-sex couples in Montana won't receive the benefits of today's landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision, but civil liberties officials in the state say the court ruling will open new doors for gay rights in Montana.

Officials at the American Civil Liberties Union of Montana said Justice Anthony Kennedy's swing vote in today's decision serves as a warning to supporters of laws like the Defense of Marriage Act.

Same sex couples in Montana still do not have the legal right to wed, but officials say today's decision -- and an important same-sex lawsuit -- are moving the state towards marriage equality.

Legal Director of the ACLU of Montana, Jon Ellingson, says he was delighted by the Supreme Court's landmark decision.

"It's a great day for all of us who believe that an individual has a fundamental liberty to choose the intimate partner of their choice," Ellingson said.

However, Ellingson said he recognizes Montana has a ways to go, as one of 36 states that still ban same-sex marriage.

He added, more than 200 Montana state statutes grant federal tax, health and other benefits rights to married couples.

"And under our constitution, that can only be different-sex couples," Ellingson explained.

Ellingson said the ACLU will soon file an amended complaint in the "Donaldson and Guggenheim v. State of Montana" lawsuit, representing six same-sex couples seeking the right to visit a loved one in the hospital, plan a funeral, and other basic legal liberties.

Ideally, he said the Montana Supreme Court would rule it unconstitutional to deny same-sex couples legal protections, and eventually, the right to get married.

Ellingson said, "I think the day is going to come when a court will look at that prohibition and conclude that too, is an unconstitutional degradation of a fundamental human liberty."

"I was really thrilled this morning when I heard the news, but also, it just kind of touched me with a little bit of sadness because I realized I was living in a state that doesn't recognize marriage equality," said Brittany Salley-Rains, a member of the gay community in Montana.

Salley-Rains said she hopes more change will follow the supreme court's decision -- especially within the Montana constitution.

She said, "I don't want to have to leave Montana to get married, you know, if I do get married I want to be able… I want it to be here."

"It is hard to imagine something that is more essential than the ability to fall in love with the person we fall in love with, and choose to make our life with that person," Ellingson said.

To learn about Montana campaigns seeking equal legal rights for same-sex couples, click here.

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