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Montana: Another Attempt For Relationship Recognition

By Michelle Garcia

Seven same-sex couples filed a lawsuit against the the state of Montana this week asking to secure domestic partnership protections in their state.

The lawsuit challenges several state-level benefits and responsibilities that gay and lesbian couples are often shut out of, including financial protections for police officers, worker’s compensation benefits, end-of-life decisions, financial protections during illness and others, according to the American Civil Liberties Union of Montana, which is representing the plaintiffs in the suit. While the state supreme court threw out a case challenging all of the rights and benefits same-sex couples are restricted from sharing, the court said the ACLU could challenge each issue individually.

Among the couples who are part of the lawsuit, Mary Leslie of Bozeman, Mont., said she lost her home because she was not eligible for worker's compensation death benefits when her former partner was killed on the job. Another couple, Peggy Ash and Kelly Hurston, will be unable to share Ash's pension fund when she retires from duty as a police officer. According to the ACLU, if Ash retires and dies before Hurston, hundreds of thousands of dollars would be lost in pension benefits, which married spouses would usually be able to obtain.

“Every other married officer that’s in this position and has worked for this time and paid into the system doesn’t have to worry about money evaporating if they retire and something happens to them,” says Peggy. “I go out and risk my health and my life every day. I’m not asking for anything special or different. I’m just asking for the same thing -- to be able to take care of Kelly.”

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