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Published by Chris Geidner

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Published by: Chris Geidner on Dec 17, 2012
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DA 11-0451
2012 MT 288 _________________ JAN DONALDSON and MARY ANNEGUGGENHEIM, MARY LESLIE and STACEYHAUGLAND, GARY STALLINGS and RICK WAGNER, KELLIE GIBSON and DENISEBOETTCHER, JOHN MICHAEL LONGand RICHARD PARKER, NANCY OWENSand MJ WILLIAMS,Plaintiffs and Appellants,v.STATE OF MONTANA,Defendant and Appellee.OPINIONandORDER  _________________ Chief Justice Mike McGrath delivered the Opinion of the Court. ¶1Plaintiffs are individualsfrom a variety of professional backgrounds who are incommitted same-sex relationships. In 2010 they sued the State of Montana, complainingthat they are unable to obtain protections and benefits that are available to similarly-situated different-sex couples who marry under State law. Plaintiffs expressly do notchallenge Montana law’s restriction of marriage to heterosexual couples, do not seek theopportunity to marry, and do not seek the designation of marriage for their relationships.They contend however that there is a “statutory structure” in Montana law that prohibitsthem from enjoying “significant relationship and family protections and obligationsautomatically provided to similarly-situated different-sex couples who marry.”
December 17 2012
 ¶2Plaintiffs contend that this statutory structure interferes with their rights under Article II of the Montana Constitution, including their rights to equal protection, due process, and the rights to privacy, dignity and the pursuit of life’s necessities. They seek a declaration that the State’s failure to provide them access to the statutory schemeavailable to different-sex couples denies them the rights guaranteed by Article II. Theyseek an injunction prohibiting the State from continuing to deny them access to thestatutory scheme. ¶3The District Court denied Plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment and grantedthe State’s motion to dismiss under M. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). The District Court noted thatPlaintiffs do not seek a declaration that any specific statutes are unconstitutional.TheDistrict Court concluded that granting the relief sought—ordering the Legislature to enacta statutory scheme to address Plaintiffs’ goals of achieving equal treatment—would be aninappropriate exercise of judicial power. Doing so, according to the District Court,would run afoul of the separation of powers required by Article III, section 1 of theMontana Constitution. ¶4The District Court was also concerned that granting broad declaratory relief wouldlikely impact a large number of statutes in potentially unknown and unintended ways. Inthe District Court proceedings Plaintiffs parenthetically listed a number of Montanastatutes that they contend are within the “statutory scheme” that denies them equal accessto rights and responsibilities. The District Court concluded, however that “what plaintiffswant here is not a declaration of the unconstitutionality of a specific statute or set of statutes but rather a direction to the legislature to enact a statutory arrangement.” The
District Court determined that while this had some appeal, such relief was“unprecedented and uncharted in Montana law.” The District Court concluded that “the proper ways to deal with Plaintiffs’ concerns are specific suits directed at specific,identifiable statutes.”Plaintiffs appealed after the District Court denied their motion toalter or amend. ¶5On appeal Plaintiffs argue, without reference to specific statutes, that they are“excluded from the statutory scheme of benefits and obligations the state has associatedexclusively with marriage.” Plaintiffs contend that a strict level of review is required, butthateven at the lowest levels of constitutional scrutiny the State cannot show a legitimategovernmental interest in the current statutory scheme, and that it violates their rightsunder Article II of the Montana Constitution. Plaintiffs contend that the State excludesthem from access to unnamed benefits and obligations in violation of Montana’sconstitutional rights of privacy, dignity and the pursuit of life’s basic necessities.Plaintiffs contend that they are entitled to a declaratory judgment and to injunctive relief to redress the violation of their rights. Plaintiffs contend that while they can obtain relief without a judicial order requiring the Legislature to act, such an order is a remedy wellwithin established constitutional bounds. ¶6Plaintiffs ask that the judgment of the District Court be reversed and the caseremanded to grant Plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment as well as a declaratory judgment and injunction. We affirm in part, reverse in part and remand for further  proceedings.

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