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Rolando v. Fox

United States District Court, D. Montana, Great Falls Division

November 19, 2014

ANGELA ROLANDO and TONYA ROLANDO; CHASE WEINHANDL and BENJAMIN MILANO; SUSAN HAWTHORNE and ADEL JOHNSON; and SHAUNA GOUBEAUX and NICOLE GOUBEAUX, Plaintiffs,
v.
TIM FOX in his official capacity as Attorney General of the State of Montana; MICHAEL KADAS, in his official capacity as the Director of the Montana Department of Revenue; and FAYE McWILLIAMS, in her official capacity as Clerk of Court of Cascade County, Defendants

Page 1228

For Angela Rolando, Tonya Rolando, Chase Weinhandl, Benjamin Milano, Susan Hawthorne, Adel Johnson, Shauna Goubeaux, Nicole Goubeaux, Plaintiffs: Benjamin Joseph Alke, James H. Goetz, LEAD ATTORNEYS, GOETZ, BALDWIN & GEDDES, P.C., Bozeman, MT; James Park Taylor, LEAD ATTORNEY, ACLU OF MONTANA, Missoula, MT; Ariel F. Ruiz, PRO HAC VICE, MORRISON & FOERSTER LLP, New York, NY; Elizabeth O. Gill, AMERICAN CIVIL LIBERTIES UNION FOUNDATION,, San Francisco, CA; Emily F. Regier, Ruth N. Borenstein, Stuart C. Plunkett, PRO HAC VICE, MORRISON & FOERSTER LLP, San Francisco, CA.

For Tim Fox, in his official capacity as Attorney General of the State of Montana, Michael Kadas, in his official capacity as the Director of the Montana Department of Revenue, Faye McWilliams, in her official capacity as Clerk of Court of Cascade County, Defendants: Mark W. Mattioli, LEAD ATTORNEY, OFFICE OF THE MONTANA ATTORNEY GENERAL, Helena, MT; Jonathan W. Bennion, MONTANA DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, Helena, MT.

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ORDER

Brian Morris, United States District Judge.

Plaintiffs challenge the Montana laws that ban the marriage of same-sex couples and ban the recognition of valid marriages of same-sex couples in other jurisdictions.

BACKGROUND

Montana voters amended the Montana Constitution in 2004 to ban same-sex marriage. The Montana Constitution provides that " [o]nly a marriage between one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in this state." Mont. Const. Art. XIII, § 7. Montana statutory law also prohibits same-sex marriage. Montana Code Annotated section 40-1-401(1)(d) prohibits " marriage between persons of the same sex." Similarly, Montana Code Annotated section 40-1-103 defines marriage as " a personal relationship between a man and a woman arising out of a civil contract to which the consent of the parties is essential."

Previous litigation in the courts of the State of Montana has highlighted the multitude of benefits and responsibilities that arise from a valid civil marriage contract. See Donaldson v. Montana, 2012 MT 288, 367 Mont. 228, 292 P.3d 364 (Mont. 2012). These benefits include tax preferences that reflect society's desire for the families of married couples to succeed financially. See, e.g., Mont. Code Ann. § 19-17-405 (survivorship benefits for surviving spouses); Mont. Code Ann. § 33-20-1402 (spouse qualifies as dependent under life insurance); Mont. Code Ann. § 39-51-2205 (surviving spouse eligible to receive payments of accrued unemployment insurance benefits); Mont. Code Ann. § 39-71-723 (surviving spouse eligible to receive payment of workers' compensation benefits); Mont. Code Ann. § 72-2-112 (providing first priority to surviving spouse under intestate secession); and Mont. Code Ann. § 15-30-2114 (providing exemption for taxpayer's spouse under state tax code). These responsibilities reflect society's recognition that married couples stand in the best position to make life and death decisions regarding the well-being of their family. See, e.g., Mont. Code Ann. § 2-18-601 (allowing leave time for state employees to care for sick spouses); Mont. Code Ann. § 50-9-106 (authorizing spouse to consent to, or withhold consent of, medical treatment); and Mont. Code Ann. § 15-30-2366 (providing tax credit for qualified elderly care expenses for care of taxpayer's spouse).

Plaintiffs Angela Rolando and Tonya Rolando, a same-sex couple, live in Great

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Falls, Montana. (Doc. 1 at 6). The couple attempted to obtain a marriage license at the Cascade County Clerk of Court's office on May 19, 2014. The Cascade County Clerk of Court's office denied the Rolandos a marriage license because Montana law prohibits the marriage of same-sex couples. (Doc. 36 at 1).

Plaintiffs Chase Weinhandl and Benjamin Milano, Susan Hawthorne and Adel Johnson, and Shauna Goubeaux and Nicole Goubeaux are same-sex couples who reside in Montana. Each couple, while living in Montana, traveled outside Montana to marry. The couples legally married under the laws of Hawaii, Washington, and Iowa, respectively. (Doc. 36 at 1-2). The State of Montana refuses to recognize these marriages of same-sex partners.

Plaintiffs initially asked the Court to declare that Montana laws that prohibit same-sex marriage violate Plaintiffs' right to equal protection of the laws enshrined in the United States Constitution. Plaintiffs alleged that the Montana laws violated their right to equal protection by discriminating against them on the basis of both sexual orientation and on the basis of gender. Plaintiffs further requested that this Court declare that Montana laws that ban same-sex marriage violate Plaintiffs' fundamental right to marry. After Plaintiffs filed their complaint, the Ninth Circuit determined that laws that banned same-sex marriage in Idaho and Nevada violated the constitutional right of same-sex couples to equal protection of the laws. Latta v. Otter, 771 F.3d 456, 2014 WL 4977682 (9th Cir. 2014).

Plaintiffs now have filed a motion for summary judgment on their equal protection claim. (Doc. 35). Plaintiffs argue that the State of Montana has discriminated against them on the basis of sexual orientation. The Court would not need to reach Plaintiffs' fundamental right to marry claim, or decide whether Montana has discriminated against Plaintiffs on the basis of gender, if it determines that Montana laws that ban same-sex marriage violate Plaintiffs' right to equal protection of the laws.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

A party is entitled to summary judgment when " there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). Material facts could affect the outcome of a case. Factual disputes that are irrelevant or unnecessary to the outcome of the case will not be counted. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986).

ANALYSIS

The Court first must assess whether it possesses jurisdiction to hear ...


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