At their meeting last Monday, July 15, the Missoula City Council unanimously approved a measure establishing the first Domestic Partner Registry in Montana.

The registry has been guided along by ward four's Caitlin Copple, long a supporter of LGBT causes.

"Basically, the registry is a way for either opposite-sex or same-sex couples to have their relationship officially recognized as having dignity and value by the city government," Copple said. "It doesn't contain much in the way of rights and responsibilities because that's up to the state, and, unfortunately, in Montana, we actually ban the freedom for gay people to get married under the law."

Copple said the registry is a step forward in the effort to have same-sex relationships be officially recognized legally.

"Mostly this will bolster public opinion and show other cities that even though our state is kind of backwards, then cities can do everything they can to value all families and all Montanans," she stated.

Copple related the process under which couples could add their names to the registry.

"Its open to all Montana couples," Copple said. "So, basically, you just file an affidavit with the city clerk's office and you either bring in a marriage license or domestic partnership certificate that allows marriage. So, for example, a couple can drive three hours to Spokane, they can get married, even though Montana does not officially recognize their marriage, even though the federal government now legally recognizes their marriage. Its just a voluntary registration, and for those couples who do want to be recognized in Montana and who want to continue to live in Montana. Its just a way for them to be recognized."

"One way the registration can be helpful, even though its not legally binding, if they're in an emergency situation and they want proof that they're in this relationship and they want their loved one to be the one doctors will call and the person that's at their bedside when they're in the hospital," Copple said.

Copple said the government should step aside in areas of personal relationships.

"Maybe in a perfect world we wouldn't have the government be involved in the business of marriage and relationship recognition, but that's not the world that we live in, so I think this is an important step forward in making sure people are treated equally under the law. "

Missoula Ward Four City Councilor Caitlin Copple

Regarding medical decisions, KGVO News spoke with Linda Smith, Director of Quality and Risk Management at Missoula Community Medical Center, who said its the patient that guides the decision as to who will have access during a hospital stay.

"It really works for a same-sex couple pretty much the way it would for a heterosexual couple, in that the patient themselves can always designate who they want to have present to receive healthcare information," Smith said. "They can always designate an advocate, a spouse, a family member, a neighbor, whoever they want, the patient has the ability to do that, and that's a federal statute."

Smith said a little pre-planning will solve all the problems for a patient when it comes to having access.

"If a patient is incapacitated and can't communicate, we typically rely on what they've set up ahead of time," Smith said. "Hopefully, everybody has some sort of living will or durable power of attorney, they've gone in and executed those designations, and they've talked to the person they have named as the authority to be able to make healthcare decisions for them. That's on the paper that they sign, that designates who will make decisions if they are unable to. We would expect that from same-sex couples same as we would any heterosexual couple."

Smith said the whole issue regarding healthcare decisions can be handled without any new legislation or registration.

"Oh, absolutely, absolutely," she said.

Linda Smith, Director of Quality and Risk Management at Missoula Community Medical Center