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Montana court: gays due benefits others get

Nice to report more good gay rights news today. (ABC News):

A divided Montana Supreme Court declared Thursday that the state constitution’s guarantee of equal protection extends to gays, and ruled that the state university system must offer same-sex couples the same health benefits available to heterosexual ones.

In a 4-3 decision, the justices struck down the university’s policy of denying benefits to employees’ gay partners.

The high court said the policy violates the Montana Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection because unmarried heterosexual partners could get the benefit by signing a common-law marriage affidavit, while unmarried gay partners could not.

The ruling, which reversed a 2002 lower-court decision, did not address the issue of gay marriage, which is barred under the Montana Constitution.

The case began after the University of Montana refused to let two employees in Missoula buy health insurance for their lesbian partners, who were not university employees. Carol Snetsinger and Carla Grayson and their partners sued, joined by the gay-rights group PRIDE.

Leaders of the Republican-controlled Legislature sided with the university system.

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding