Marriage equality appears well on its way to becoming the law of the land throughout our entire region with the joyous news tonight that the chief U.S. Magistrate Judge for the District of Idaho, Candy W. Dale, has struck down Idaho’s ban on marriage between LGBT couples as unconstitutional.
“Idaho’s marriage laws withhold from them a profound and personal choice, one that most can take for granted,” Judge Dale wrote in her decision.
She added, “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’s Republican Governor, Butch Otter, has already vowed to appeal the decision, all the way to the United States Supreme Court if necessary. However, unless Otter wins a stay by 9 AM this Friday morning, LGBT couples will be able to wed in Idaho.
Evan Wolfson of Freedom to Marry enthusiastically praised Dale’s decision in a statement sent to NPI a short time after the ruling was released.
“Today’s ruling from the federal court in Idaho is the latest in more than a dozen rulings unanimously holding marriage discrimination unconstitutional. From Idaho to Arkansas, Utah to Michigan, the courts are affirming that there is no good reason for government to deny marriage to committed couples,” Wolfson said.
“As gay couples and their families begin to share in the joy and security of the freedom to marry, hearts and minds are opening, discrimination’s barriers are falling, and we’re moving our country to the right side of history.”
Washington became the first state in the Pacific Northwest to embrace marriage equality when voters upheld SB 6239 by approving Referendum 74 in 2012. Previously, voters had blessed the “everything but marriage” law passed by the Legislature in 2009, which permitted LGBT couples to form civil unions, but not marry. A previous effort to overturn the state’s statutory ban on marriage equality before the state Supreme Court (Andersen v. King County) was unsuccessful.
Idaho’s ban on marriage equality is at the end of Article III, which pertains to the state’s legislative department. It reads as follows:
Section 28. Marriage. A marriage between a man and a woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this state.
It is a well-established principle of American law that state constitutions may not conflict with the Constitution of the United States. A state constitution may give the people of a state greater protections than what the U.S. Constitution provides, but not less. The U.S. Constitution is the minimum baseline.
Last year, in United States v. Windsor, the United States Supreme Court struck down the federal level ban on marriage equality. Since then, federal courts across the country have been invalidating state level bans on marriage equality with breathtaking speed. Judge Dale’s ruling is the newest.
But it’s not likely to stay the newest for very long. In fact, a federal judge is scheduled to hear oral arguments tomorrow in a pair of consolidated cases challenging Oregon’s ban on marriage equality. Barring a decision by a week from this Friday, activists in Oregon are prepared to submit signatures to place a constitutional amendment on the ballot to reverse the amendment adopted in 2004 that defines marriage as between a male and a female.
We’ll have more reaction to this news as we get it.