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Federal court strikes down Idaho ban on same-sex marriage

Federal court strikes down Idaho ban on same-sex marriage


Updated: 8:20 p.m. MDT

BOISE, Idaho — A federal district court in Boise has issued a ruling striking down Idaho’s ban on marriage for same-sex couples and ordering the state to allow same-sex couples to marry in Idaho and to recognize the marriages of couples who married in other states.

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 democrat ic 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.

The case was brought by four same-sex couples, represented by attorneys Deborah A. Ferguson and Craig Durham and the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), who argued that Idaho’s ban on marriage for same-sex couples cannot stand in light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling last June that the federal Defense of Marriage Act violates the federal constitutional guarantees of equal protection and due process.

The decision marks the eleventh federal court since last summer’s Supreme Court decision to rule in favor of the freedom to marry for same-sex couples, including federal courts in Utah, Ohio, Oklahoma, Kentucky, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia.

The couples are Susan Latta and Traci Ehlers, and Lori and Sharene Watsen, who are legally married and asked Idaho to recognize their marriages, and Shelia Robertson and Andrea Altmayer, and Amber Beierle and Rachael Robertson, who seek to marry.

“Today’s decision affirms the fundamental principles of equality and fairness and the common humanity of gay and lesbian people. As the Court recognized, these families are part of Idaho’s community, and equal protection requires that they be given the same legal protections and respect as other families in this state,” said Ferguson.

“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,” she said.

The ruling is here.

Developing story, check back for updates.

Associated Press contributed to this report.

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