For certain Montana residents today will be one of those days when they remember where they were when they heard the news. Sue Hawthorne was out shopping with her sister when, as she puts it, her phone started ‘exploding’ with calls and texts from friends. Federal Judge Brian Morris had ruled in a lawsuit in which Hawthorne was a plaintiff. Her marriage to Adel Johnson of Helena, performed in Washington state several months ago, was now legally recognized in Montana:
“It’s still disbelief, you just sit back and you go, is this really true, and then it starts to sink in,” said Hawthorne.
Sue and Adel joined three other couples in a lawsuit backed by the American Civil Liberties Union to overturn the Montana law limiting marriage to one man and one woman. After rulings from the Ninth Circuit Court and the Supreme Court cleared the way for the suit to be heard, the judge originally scheduled arguments for tomorrow, but then vacated the scheduled hearing, saying that he had heard enough information to make a ruling. Hawthorne, a retired US Army veteran, says it gives her one more reason to be proud of her country:
"Well what I’m so proud of that I’ve served 28 years in the military to support and defend our constitution, and this is like the second most amazing thing that’s ever happened that now I’ll be legally recognized with my wife, who is serving the country right now. I’m very proud of her”
Technically the ruling cleared the way for county clerks to begin issuing same-sex marriage licenses immediately, but Jim Taylor, legal director for the Montana ACLU, expected clerks to get clearance from their county attorneys and begin the process Thursday morning. He doesn’t expect any holdouts to drag their feet:
“I think it’s pretty well settled that the federal constitution is the law of this country and if the federal court orders something, then it will be enforced. And I’m pretty sure that any misunderstandings will be cleared up very quickly.”
Even so, advocates of same-sex marriage are mindful that the Supreme Court has not yet issued a ruling that declares “marriage equality” the law of the land. Montana Attorney General Tim Fox, a Republican, says his job is to defend state law in every venue that is available to him, and he plans to. ACLU Executive Director Scott Crichton acknowledges the battle isn’t over:
"As is true with every civil right we have to continue to assert our rights to make sure that they’re defended and that’s what we’re all about, so we’re going to fight for dignity and equal protection under the law in Montana in the days, weeks and months to come.”
However, the ACLU isn’t waiting before celebrating this latest victory. It’s holding marriage celebrations in six county courthouses across Montana Thursday morning, complete with ministers standing by to perform marriages on the spot for any same sex couples that want them.