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August 20, 2014

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Judge strikes down Idaho’s same-sex marriage ban

BOISE, Idaho — 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. Ten other federal district courts have issued similar rulings supporting gay marriage rights.

Dale said the state must issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples starting at 9 a.m. Friday.

"The Plaintiffs are entitled to extraordinary remedies because of their extraordinary injuries," Dale wrote, saying same-sex couples in Idaho have been denied the economic, emotional and spiritual benefits of marriage.

"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," she wrote.

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. The three-day delay in allowing weddings is 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."

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. They 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.

"We won," Latta said, holding the hand of her wife, Traci Ehlers.

The couple spoke on the steps of the federal courthouse Tuesday evening, surrounded by their friends and family as well as their attorneys and the three other plaintiff couples.

"I think we're going to go celebrate," Ehlers said.

Beierle and Rachael Robertson of Boise said they would be back at the courthouse Friday morning to get a marriage license.

"The first person I called when I got the news was my mom, and she said, 'I'm so proud of you Amby,'" Beierle said, holding back tears. "I don't think people understand what that means to native Idahoans who love this state and want to stay in this state but who want to be heard. It feels amazing."

The four couples' 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.

Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a law forbidding the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages was unconstitutional. Since then, lower-court judges have repeatedly cited the decision when striking down same-sex marriage bans that were enacted after Massachusetts started recognizing gay marriages in 2004.

In addition to Idaho, federal or state judges in Oklahoma, Virginia, Michigan, Texas, Utah and Arkansas have recently found those state bans to be unconstitutional. Judges have also ordered Kentucky, Ohio and Tennessee to recognize same-sex marriages from other states.

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