Gazette opinion: The least surprising lawsuit in Montana

2014-06-01T00:00:00Z 2014-06-02T21:56:04Z Gazette opinion: The least surprising lawsuit in Montana The Billings Gazette
June 01, 2014 12:00 am

Well, you could see the lawsuit coming from miles away.

As other states got taken to court for what appear to be unconstitutional bans on gay marriage, it wasn't a matter of if, rather when Montana's challenge would come.

Last week, four same-sex couples filed a lawsuit in federal court in Great Falls to challenge the 2004 Montana Constitution's ban on gay marriage. Now North Dakota is the only state not to have a challenge to its ban.

Advocates of the ban rightly point out that Montana voters -- the will of the residents -- supported the ban a decade ago.

But times appear to be changing. 

Recently, the federal courts have been striking down bans, interpreting the U.S. Constitution to say states cannot -- even by popular vote -- take away rights to certain people while offering them to others. In other words, states cannot say to one group of consenting adults that they may marry, but another group cannot.

We understand Montana's heritage of conservative values. We'd also argue those values, though, are only part of who we are. We have a deeper and more inclusive tradition that should be considered.

When you talk to Montanans about what makes this place special -- there is an unmistakable sense of freedom. There's a lot of open spaces; there is not just a tolerance of different viewpoints, but a healthy respect for disagreement. Among the things that Montanans seem to value is a sense of the freedom to be your own person here. Live and let live is something we cherish.

We recognize there are going to be plenty of groups fretting about the possible demise of the marriage ban. That's fine. Healthy, respectful disagreement is also our heritage.

But if it falls -- as is likely -- we should be able to live comfortably knowing that we are simply letting others have the freedom to marry if they choose. It's an individual decision between two consenting adults. For those who like the notion of less government, relieving the government of having to play marriage police should be a victory in itself.

We also believe that a diverse, inclusive Montana is in the state's best long-term interests. We want a place that attracts the best and brightest. In order to do that, we need to continue to be a place that is welcoming and respectful. 

This isn't just some theoretical concept. When employers look to start or move a business, or when talented folks consider a job, they will look for so many of the things Montana has in abundance -- outdoor and recreation opportunities, strong economy, lower tax burden. But, they'll also look at the quality of life and its diversity.

Billings itself has a proud tradition of not just tolerating diversity, but actively standing up to ensure it. The timing is particularly interesting now, as Billings gets ready to host the 20th anniversary gathering of the "Not In Our Town" movement. When the original hate crimes happened, the entire community stood up to say that it wouldn't allow its minority citizens (both religious and ethnic) to be harassed or pressured out of the community.

Since the gay marriage issue is in the hands of the court, there is little citizens can do to sway the decision. That might be a good thing. It might be fitting the issue finds its way to the calm, dispassionate judicial branch which can apply a cool legal logic to the case.

And yet, even if this segment of Montana's constitution is ruled unconstitutional, there will be a victory in it as the Treasure State can boast that it allows the same freedoms to all its citizens, gay or straight.

In a very real sense, the courts may allow Montana to say we won't allow discrimination based on sexual orientation -- not in our state.

Copyright 2015 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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