Federal Judge Overturns Montana's Gay Marriage Ban, Allows Couples To Marry Immediately

Another gay marriage ban bites the dust: A federal judge overturned Montana's same-sex marriage ban on Wednesday, enabling gay couples to receive their valid marriage licenses immediately. U.S. District Judge Brian Morris struck down the 2004 state constitutional amendment because it violates the equal protection clause. The judge admitted that, with the rest of the states under jurisdiction of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals allowing same-sex marriage, "the time has come for Montana to follow" its neighbors' lead. The lawsuit was brought against the state's decade-old amendment by the ACLU of Montana, on behalf of four same-sex couples.

The voter-approved amendment, passed in 2004, established marriage under Montana's state constitution as "between one man and one woman," while a separate state statuary law code solidified marriage as a "personal relationship between a man and a woman arising from a civil contract." But in his ruling, Morris wrote that the anti-gay marriage defendants failed to "justify the discrimination" of the state's same-sex marriage ban. Morris argued that the defendants can't relate bans on gay marriage to any valid "governmental objectives," including so-called protecting children. In fact, Morris argued that these bans were harmful to children who were being raised by same-sex couples, and much of his ruling elaborated on how gay parents are just as loving, devoted and normal as heterosexual ones:

These families want for their children what all families in Montana want. They want to provide a safe and loving home in which their children have the chance to explore the world in which they live. They want their children to have the chance to discover their place in this world. And they want their children to have the chance to fulfill their highest dreams. ... No family wants to deprive its precious children of the chance to marry the loves of their lives. Montana no longer can deprive Plaintiffs and other same-sex couples of the chance to marry their loves.

"This Court recognizes that not everyone will celebrate this outcome," Morris added. "Yet the United States Constitution exists to protect disfavored minorities from the will of the majority."

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ACLU of Montana Legal Director Jim Taylor celebrated Wednesday's ruling, saying in a statement:

This case is about equality. Every committed, loving couple has an equal right to the legal protections and respect that marriage brings. This ruling takes that constitutional principle of equal protection and makes it a reality in Montana.

Angie Rolando, one of the plaintiffs in the case, added in a blog post published on ACLU of Montana's website:

We and the three other couples in the ACLU of Montana’s marriage equality lawsuit — Ben Milano and Chase Weinhandl, Shauna and Nicole Goubeaux, and Adel Johnson and Sue Hawthorne — watched states across America overturn the bans on same-sex marriage and each time it brought forth such excitement for us. Not only have we been thrilled for the residents of those states, but it gave us hope that one day we too would have marriage equality in Montana. Today that hope came true.

With this ruling, Montana becomes the 33rd state to legalized same-sex marriage. By Thursday, 34 U.S. states may have same-sex marriage, as South Carolina is poised to issue marriage licenses to gay couples following a ruling from a judge that said South Carolina must validate the marriage of a gay couple performed in Washington, D.C. The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals denied a request from the state's attorney general to block gay unions on Wednesday, leaving it up to the U.S. Supreme Court and Chief Justice John Roberts, who presides over the Fourth Circuit. Images: Getty Images (2)