HELENA (AP) — Montana's attorney general has asked a judge to throw out a lawsuit filed by seven gay couples seeking the same rights as married couples in making decisions about their families' health care and finances.
Spousal benefits are limited by definition to married couples, and the Montana Constitution defines marriage as being between a man and a woman, Attorney General Steve Bullock said.
The court does not have the jurisdiction to require the state to extend spousal benefits beyond that definition, Bullock said in a motion to dismiss the case.
Bullock says state doesn't have the authority
"Courts may not exercise the power to enact laws and revise, alter or amend the constitution," Bullock said. Such policymaking power belongs to the Legislature and the people of the state, he added.
District Judge Jeffrey Sherlock has set a Jan. 25 hearing on Bullock's motion to dismiss the case.
The American Civil Liberties Union, which represents the seven gay Montana couples in the lawsuit, said the couples aren't challenging the 2004 initiative that added the marriage definition to the state constitution.
ACLU says state violates constitution
But the ACLU claims the state is violating other parts of the constitution — the right to equal protection, privacy and dignity — by denying gay couples in committed relationships the legal protections enjoyed by married couples.
They are asking Sherlock to impose an injunction that requires the state to give gay couples the legal status and statutory framework that gives them those protections.
Among the benefits the 14 plaintiffs are seeking are inheritance rights, the ability to make burial decisions for their spouses, the right to file joint tax returns, the ability to make health-care decisions for a spouse and legal protection in cases of separation and divorce.
Besides claiming the court lacks jurisdiction, Bullock also argued in the motion filed Oct. 31 that the couples' relationship interests are already protected through "a variety of other legal arrangements already available to them."
The couples themselves say they are highly accomplished and productive citizens with families, Bullock said. "They have done so under the laws as they currently stand," he added.
He also said the injunction being sought is unprecedented and had no basis in law.
A trial date has not been set.
The plaintiffs are Jan Donaldson and Mary Anne Guggenheim, of Helena; Kellie Gibson and Denise Boettcher, of Laurel; Gary Stallings and Rick Wagner, of Butte; Nancy Owens and M.J. Williams, of Basin; Mike Long and Rich Parker, of Bozeman; Stacey Haugland and Mary Leslie, of Bozeman; and Casey Charles and David Wilson, of Missoula.