HELENA (AP) — Montana's attorney general asked a federal court Thursday to uphold the state's constitutional same-sex marriage ban in response to a lawsuit that seeks to overturn it.
Republican Attorney General Tim Fox in documents filed in federal court in Great Falls denied all the allegations brought by the four gay couples who filed the lawsuit in May. The move was not unexpected, as Fox had said previously he would vigorously defend the ban. Approved by voters in 2004, the ban says marriage is between a man and woman.
In his response, Fox asked the court to dismiss the complaint, arguing Montana's ban does not impose an unconstitutional "stigma or second-class citizenship on persons in same sex relationships."
The couples, however, allege in their lawsuit that the ban denies same-sex couples freedoms and dignity afforded to other Montanans and that it denies them legal protections and benefits that come with marriage.
The plaintiffs, several of whom were married in other states, are Shauna and Nicole Goubeaux; Angie and Tonya Rolando; Ben Milano and Chase Weinhandl; and Sue Hawthorne and Adel Johnson.
Fox also said in documents the couples have not alleged any specific harm or discrimination based on sexual orientation by him or the other defendants, which include Michael Kadas, the director of the Montana Department of Revenue and Faye McWilliams, Cascade County clerk of court.
Additionally, Fox said in documents that the plaintiffs can't state a claim based upon sex discrimination "because men and women, regardless of sexual orientation or preference, are treated the same. Neither men nor women can marry persons of the same gender."
Amy Cannata, communications director with the Montana American Civil Liberties Union — which represents the four Montana plaintiff couples in the case — said Thursday Fox's response to the lawsuit is disappointing.
"We're disappointed but not surprised that Attorney General Tim Fox decided to fight us on same sex couples' right to marry here in Montana," she said. "We are confident that this case will proceed and we will win."
State marriage bans have been falling around the country since the U.S. Supreme Court last year struck down part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act.
Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock has expressed his support for the couples who filed the lawsuit.
Same-sex marriage currently is legal in 19 states and the District of Columbia. Bans that have been overturned in some other states continue to make their way through the courts. All 50 states now have lawsuits filed challenging same-sex marriage bans.
Jeff Laszloffy of the Montana Family Foundation, which led the effort to pass the marriage amendment, said Thursday he is monitoring the case's progress.
"We're pleased that the attorney general is working hard to uphold marriage and the will of the majority of voters in Montana," he said.
Jim Taylor, legal director of Montana's ACLU, has said the Montana case could take up to a year to resolve — barring any higher court action striking down gay marriage bans.