Marriage equality moves forward in Idaho

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On May 13 United States Federal District Judge Candy Dale followed in the footsteps of Judge Robert Shelby and several others around the nation when she ruled that Idaho’s prohibition against same-sex marriage was in clear violation of the equal protection and due process clauses of the United States Constitution.  The case, Latta v Otter, was filed by three lesbian couples in Idaho, two unmarried and one married legally in another state but denied recognition in Idaho under a constitutional amendment resembling Utah’s unconstitutional Amendment 3.

In her ruling, Dale wrote “After careful consideration, the Court finds Idaho’s Marriage Laws unconstitutional.  This conclusion reaffirms a longstanding maxim underlying our system of government – a state’s broad authority to regulate matters of state concern does not include the power to violate an individual’s protected constitutional rights.  Idaho’s Marriage Laws deny its gay and lesbian citizens the fundamental right to marry and relegate their families to a stigmatized, second-class status without sufficient reason for doing so.  These laws do not withstand any applicable level of constitutional scrutiny.”

Just before the ruling was issued, Idaho Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter filed a motion for a stay pending appeal.  In the stay motion, Idaho cited the “unmitigated disaster” that occurred in Utah after Judge Robert Shelby’s ruling on December 20, 2013.  Because no stay had been filed by the Utah Attorney General, Judge Shelby’s ruling went into effect immediately and county clerks around the state began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples immediately.  In the 17 day window that existed between Judge Shelby’s ruling and the time the United States Supreme Court issued a stay in the Kitchen v Herbert case some 1,200-plus same-sex couples were legally wed in Utah.  The legal status of those couples is now in limbo pending final resolution by the courts.

In Idaho, Judge Dale provided a three day window before her ruling was to take effect.  In that time she denied the state’s motion for a stay, “This case involves serious legal questions, but, as the Court’s May 13 Order makes clear, Governor Otter is not likely to succeed on the merits…Nor does the public interest favor preserving a status quo that deprives individuals of their constitutional rights.  The Court finds that a stay pending appeal is not warranted.”

Upon appeal, however, the Ninth Circuit Court granted the stay motion before the effective date of Judge Dale’s ruling, which precluded any same-sex marriages from being legally recognized in Idaho.   Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden is reportedly working on the appeal already and it is expected to be filed with the Ninth Circuit shortly.  The Ninth Circuit currently has two other marriage equality cases on the docket from Nevada and Hawaii.

There are marriage equality cases pending in federal and appellate courts around the country, fueling speculation that the Tenth Circuit Court will be issuing a ruling in the Kitchen v Herbert (Utah) and Bishop v Smith (Oklahoma) cases within the next few weeks.   Oral arguments were heard by a three-judge panel at the Tenth Circuit for these cases on April 10 and 17, respectively.


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