Six gay Montana couples are suing the state, saying it's discrimination to deny them the same spousal benefits as married couples. A Helena judge dismissed the case last year, but now the Montana Supreme Court is weighing their appeal.
A packed house welcomed the justices to the University of Montana Friday, as they heard formal arguments at the University Theater.
Jan Donaldson and Maryanne Guggenheim from Helena are one of the six gay couples suing the State of Montana, calling this the civil rights fight of our generation. They've been together 30 years, and say they should have the same legal rights as married couples.
"It means that we and other committed couples in same sex relationships don't need to worry about being able to visit our partner in the hospital, being able to make emergency medical decisions," Donaldson said.
Attorney James Goetz spoke before the justices on their behalf, saying that the status quo unconstitutionally violates equal-rights protections.
"No person is to be denied equal protection of the laws," he said. "That is a mandate; that is the mandate."
Assistant Attorney General Mike Black represented the state, arguing the couples' suit is too broad and should be dismissed. He says it also attacks the Marriage Amendment, which Montana voters passed in 2004, saying only a man and a woman can marry.
"What the plaintiffs are trying to do here is unprecedented, it's sweeping," Black said. "All statutes are presumed to be constitutional, and they're essentially asking for an advisory opinion."
Now that both sides have concluded their arguments here at the University Theater, the justices will deliberate until they reach a majority opinion. That could come in days, weeks or even months.