Gay couples lined up for marriage licenses at county courthouses across the state of Montana Thursday, one day after a federal judge overturned the state’s ban on same-sex marriage.
U.S. District Judge Brian Morris ruled Wednesday that Montana’s constitutional amendment limiting marriage to a man and woman violates the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause.
“This Court recognizes that not everyone will celebrate this outcome,” Morris wrote. “This decision overturns a Montana Constitutional amendment approved by the voters of Montana. Yet the United States Constitution exists to protect disfavored minorities from the will of the majority.”
Tim Fox, Montana’s Republican attorney general, plans to appeal the decision, but said he wouldn’t seek to block marriages in the meantime.
At least two counties – Missoula and Park – began issuing marriage licenses to gay couples Wednesday.
In Montana’s most populous county, Yellowstone, the clerk of the District Court said her office was ready to begin issuing licenses.
“For my office, nothing will be different than any other day,” Kristie Lee Boelter said.
Also taking place Thursday, the American Civil Liberties Union will hold celebrations at county courthouses in Billings, Bozeman, Butte, Great Falls, Helena, and Missoula. The group will provide officiates for couples looking to marry immediately, ACLU spokesperson Amy Cannata said.
The ruling comes on the heels of a decision by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in September that struck down Idaho’s and Nevada’s bans as unconstitutional. Montana is part of the 9th Circuit, and Morris cited the appeals court’s opinion in his ruling.
“The time has come for Montana to follow all the other states within the Ninth Circuit and recognize that laws that ban same-sex marriage violate the constitutional right of same-sex couples to equal protection of the laws,” he wrote.
Prior to Wednesday, same-sex marriage was legal in 32 states, parts of Kansas and Missouri and the District of Columbia.