- Associated Press - Friday, June 26, 2015

HELENA, Mont. (AP) - Gay rights advocates celebrated Friday’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling to legalize gay marriage by planning parties across Montana, as the attorney general conceded his fight to enforce the state’s constitutional amendment that marriage is between a man and a woman.

Gay and lesbian couples in Montana have been able to obtain marriage licenses and wed legally since November, when U.S. District Court Judge Brian Morris threw out the state’s voter-approved gay marriage ban.

The Supreme Court’s decision to make gay marriage legal nationwide will end Montana Attorney General Tim Fox’s appeal of Morris’ ruling. The appeal had been on hold while the nation’s high court deliberated.

“For all those who thought they could never get married in their lifetime, today is a monumental moment because they now have the freedom to marry the person they love,” said Liz Welch, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender advocacy coordinator with ACLU Montana.

The ACLU planned public celebrations Friday in Billings, Bozeman, Butte, Great Falls, Helena, Kalispell and Missoula.

Fox said in a statement that he did his job by defending the 2004 constitutional amendment until his legal options for doing so ran out.

“The nation’s highest court has spoken on this matter, and though I disagree with the ruling, it is now the law of the land,” Fox said.

Statewide, 277 same-sex couples from 25 counties have received marriage licenses since November, according to Chuck Council with the state Department of Public Health and Human Services.

Linda Gryczan and Constance Enzweiler were the first same-sex couple to marry in Helena. Gryczan was the lead plaintiff in a 1995 lawsuit challenging a separate state law that made gay sex illegal. That led to the unanimous 1997 Montana Supreme Court decision that ruled the law unconstitutional.

She said the marriage ruling was important to her because her biggest fear was being denied the ability granted to spouses to care for her partner or even visit her in the hospital.

“(This ruling) means my spouse and I can truly take responsibility for the promises we made to one another and care for one another in times of crisis,” she said.

Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock said Friday’s ruling moves Montana and the nation closer to the promise of freedom, dignity, and equality that they were founded upon. Democratic U.S. Sen. Jon Tester said all couples should have the same rights to happiness and protections under the law.

The Republicans in Montana’s congressional delegation, U.S. Sen. Steve Daines and U.S. Rep. Ryan Zinke, said the court is overriding the will of the people of Montana and that they believe marriage is between one man and one woman.

Jeff Laszloffy, president of Montana Family Foundation and author of the 2004 constitutional amendment, called Friday’s ruling a short-term detour.

“The court got it wrong, pure and simple, just as they did when they upheld slavery in Dred Scott and, as some would argue, more recently in Citizens United,” Laszloffy said.

Gryczan said the battle for equal rights for LGBT people isn’t over. Thirty-one states including Montana have yet to pass any statewide LGBT non-discrimination laws.

“We can still be fired from our jobs, we can lose our homes and not be served in a restaurant and now we work on that,” she said. “Some of us want to get married. All of us want to be treated fairly.”

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