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Being able to marry the person you love can seem like a distant dream for Montanans in committed same-sex relationships, despite the recent victory in neighboring Washington allowing same-sex couples to marry. Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Montanans still don’t even have basic protections from being fired or denied housing or public accommodations, unless they happen to live in Missoula or Helena, the two municipalities that have passed local nondiscrimination ordinances.

This is not for lack of trying. The Legislature, as it has for more than 20 years, once again killed a bill that would allow such protections for all Montanans by amending the state’s Human Rights Act.

Yet there is reason believe that most average Montanans support fairness. Recent polling by the ACLU of Montana shows a majority of residents support allowing committed same-sex couples the benefits of marriage through “separate but equal” domestic partnerships. Montana likely won’t ever allow the freedom to marry without federal intervention, but such changes may be on the horizon.

Supreme arguments

Next week, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear two historic cases concerning the freedom to marry and relationship recognition for same-sex couples. There has been tremendous momentum around the issue of marriage equality over the last year. Voters in three states, including Washington have affirmed marriage equality at the polls.

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Loving, committed, gay and lesbian couples in Montana want to marry for the similar reasons as straight couples: to share their hopes and dreams (and to support their families). For me, this historic moment is personal.

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Raising a family is complicated enough, but in Montana, knowing that we do not have the same legal protections as other loving families adds to the challenges. My family equally contributes to Billings and to Montana to make it the fantastic place that it is, and we are asking for support in the relief that legal protections would offer.

One of our most basic Montana values is to treat others the way we’d want to be treated — and no one wants to be told who they can or can’t marry.

Billings rally Monday

If you agree, please consider joining Pride Foundation, Yellowstone AIDS Project, Not in Our Town — Billings, TAP 365, and the Montana Human Rights Network for a Freedom for All Families Rally at the Billings Federal Courthouse from noon to 1 p.m. Monday or join virtually at #Time4Marriage on Twitter.

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Shelley Hayes is a member of the board of directors of the Pride Foundation and was born and raised in Billings where she still lives.

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