Judge Strikes Down Idaho’s Same-Sex Marriage Ban
Gay and lesbian couples in Idaho could start getting married as soon as Friday after a judge ruled the state's ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional.
U.S. District Magistrate Judge Candy Dale wrote in her decision Tuesday evening that Idaho's laws barring same-sex marriage unconstitutionally deny gay and lesbian citizens their fundamental right to marry.
Dale said the state must issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples starting at 9 a.m. Friday.
However, Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter already has said he intends to appeal the case, meaning an appellate court could still put the weddings on hold.
Dale said marriage works a fundamental change on the lives of all who experience it, and it holds immense personal and spiritual significance.
"This case asks a basic and enduring question about the essence of American government: Whether the will of the majority, based as it often is on sincere beliefs and democratic consensus, may trump the rights of a minority," the judge wrote.
Idaho's laws wrongly stigmatize gay and lesbian couples and relegate their families to second-class status without sufficient reason, she said.
But it's not just the immense significance of marriage as a ceremonial right that is at issue in the ruling, Dale noted. It's also the many ways a legal marriage affects the daily life of a spouse.
"From the deathbed to the tax form, property rights to parental rights, the witness stand to the probate court, the legal status of 'spouse' provides unique and undeniably important protections," Dale wrote.
Still, she built in a three-day delay in the ruling, apparently in response to a request from the governor.
Otter cited the state's constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.
"In 2006, the people of Idaho exercised their fundamental right, reaffirming that marriage is the union of a man and a woman," he said in a statement. "Today's decision, while disappointing, is a small setback in a long-term battle that will end at the U.S. Supreme Court.
"I am firmly committed to upholding the will of the people and defending our Constitution."
Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden said he would consult with the governor on the state's appeal.
Four Idaho couples in November filed the lawsuit against the governor and Ada County Clerk Chris Rich challenging the marriage ban. The couples are Sue Latta and Traci Ehlers; Lori and Sharene Watsen; Shelia Robertson and Andrea Altmayer; and Amber Beierle and Rachael Robertson.
Latta and Ehlers married in 2008 in California, and the Watsens married in 2011 in New York. Both couples have children and say Idaho wrongly treats Ehlers as a legal stranger to her grandchildren and requires Lori Watsen to obtain a new power of attorney every six months so she can have legal authority to consent to medical treatment for her son.
Their attorney, Deborah Ferguson, said the ruling recognized that the families are part of Idaho's community and that they deserved the same protections and respect as other families.
"The court's ruling is a victory not only for the courageous couples who brought this case, but for everyone who cares about freedom and fairness," Ferguson said in a statement.