Four couples suing the state over Idaho’s ban on same-sex marriage are asking a federal judge to rule in their favor without a trial, contending the facts of the case and recent federal court rulings elsewhere make it clear that Idaho’s marriage laws violate the Constitution.
The defendant in the case, Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter, also is asking the judge for an immediate ruling, contending that states and not the federal government have the right to define marriage and that same-sex marriages would harm Idaho’s children.
Both sides made their arguments Wednesday in legal briefs filed in Boise’s U.S. District Court.
Also Wednesday, nine same-sex couples in Colorado filed suit in Denver challenging their state’s ban on gay marriage. Federal judges in Utah, Oklahoma, Kentucky, Virginia and Ohio already have voided part or all of those states’ bans on same-sex marriage, a point raised in the Idaho lawsuit, and the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June that the federal government must recognize valid same-sex marriages.
Currently, 17 states and the District of Columbia allow same-sex marriages.
The Idaho couples filed their lawsuit in November against the governor and Ada County Clerk Chris Rich. 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.
The other two couples have been denied marriage licenses in Idaho, though Beierle and Rachael Robertson own a house together and Altmayer and Shelia Robertson are raising their son together.
Gov. Otter contends that Idaho’s laws banning same-sex marriage are vital to the state’s goal of creating “stable, husband-wife unions for the benefit of their children.”
“Common sense and a wealth of social-science data teach that children do best emotionally, socially, intellectually and even economically when reared in an intact home by both biological parents,” Otter’s attorneys wrote in the court filing.
The women contend Otter’s stance has no basis in reality and say the state’s ban on gay marriage is nothing more than discrimination based on gender and sexual orientation. After all, they argue, banning same-sex marriage and denying the children of same-sex couples the same legal protections given to children of married heterosexual couples does nothing to encourage heterosexual couples to procreate or become better parents.
The issue of equal rights for gay and transgender citizens has become a major issue in Idaho’s courts and Legislature over the past few years. Gay rights advocates have staged protests several times at the Idaho statehouse this year, urging lawmakers to add antidiscrimination protections for gay and transgender people and to recognize same-sex marriages granted in other states. Currently, Idaho requires same-sex couples married elsewhere to file their state tax returns as if they are single rather than married.
Other states are facing similar debates. Colorado voters approved a constitutional amendment outlawing gay marriage in 2006. In 2013, the state assembly passed a same-sex civil unions law. Don Quick, a Democrat running for Colorado attorney general, put a spotlight on the issue last week, challenging the Republican who now holds the office, John Suthers, to stop defending the ban.
Among the plaintiffs in the Colorado lawsuit are Tommy Craig, a middle school administrator, and Joshua Wells, an aerospace engineer, the first couple to enter into a civil union in Arapahoe County. They say in the suit they paid an additional $100 to have their union certified by a judge because of doubts about whether other states would recognize their relationship.