Seven gay couples in Montana, US, are suing the state for failing to legalise domestic partnerships.

The suit was brought on behalf of the couples by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

Under the state’s laws, there is no recognition of same-sex relationships, meaning that gay people can be barred from visiting their partners in hospital, are denied inheritance rights and can be left with nothing if their partners died without leaving valid wills.

The ACLU argues that Montana’s refusal to recognise gay relationships violates the state constitution’s rights of privacy, dignity and equal protection.

The organisation is not demanding full marriage equality as the state passed a constituional amendment in 2004 which restricts marriage to heterosexual couples.

Betsy Griffing, legal director for the ACLU of Montana, said: “It’s unfair for same-sex couples who have made commitments and formed families to be treated by the state like
legal strangers.

“Lesbian, gay and bisexual Montanans are valuable and productive members of society who should be treated fairly if their partner is in the hospital or dies without a will.”

One of the 14 plaintiffs, Jan Donaldson, said of her 27-year relationship with Mary Anne Guggenheim: “Mary Anne and I are part of a family unit, bonded by love and mutual respect and a desire to share in a close relationship that benefits not only us, as partners, but our wider family and the entire community.

“We depend on one another, in all aspects of our life together. We want to be able to do that with grace and dignity and to feel secure that our relationship will be respected.

“We want our relationship to be recognised for what it clearly is – a loving commitment of responsibility worthy of security and protection by the state.”