by Mike Andrew -
SGN Staff Writer
U.S. Magistrate Judge Candy Dale ruled on May 13 that Idaho's ban on Gay and Lesbian marriages violates the equal protection and due process clauses of the U.S. Constitution. Two days later, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals stayed her ruling until they decide whether to hear an appeal.
'Idaho's Marriage Laws withhold from them a profound and personal choice, one that most can take for granted,' she wrote in her 57-page decision.
'By doing so, Idaho's Marriage Laws deny same-sex couples the economic, practical, emotional, and spiritual benefits of marriage, relegating each couple to a stigmatized, second-class status. Plaintiffs suffer these injuries not because they are unqualified to marry, start a family, or grow old together, but because of who they are and whom they love.'
Idaho Governor Butch Otter filed a preemptive motion for a stay, but Dale denied his request on May 14. The Governor's appeal is unlikely to succeed, she ruled, and therefore there is no reason to keep Gay and Lesbian couples waiting for further hearings.
Otter appealed her decision to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, and the higher court stayed Dale's ruling on May 15. In a one-sentence order, a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court wrote, 'The district court's May 13, 2014 order is temporarily stayed pending this court's disposition of appellants' emergency motions for a stay pending appeal.'
Absent the stay, Otter's attorney, Thomas Perry, said 'There is likely to be a repetition in Idaho of the chaos, confusion, conflict, uncertainty and spawn of further litigation and administrative actions seen in Utah and, to a lesser extent, in Michigan.'
In those states, rulings striking down existing marriage bans were not stayed by the trial judge, and Gay and Lesbian couples rushed to obtain marriage licenses and marry.
Four Idaho couples filed the lawsuit challenging the marriage ban in November, naming the Governor and Ada County Clerk Chris Rich as co-defendants. 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 law 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 Dale's ruling recognized that same-sex families are part of Idaho's community and that they deserved the same protections and respect as other Idaho 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.
Otter said that he believes the issue of same-sex marriage will ultimately return to the U.S. Supreme Court.
'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. '[Judge Dale's May 13] 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.'
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