A gay rights activist holds a rainbow flag.
Oswaldo Rivas/Reuters

Federal court in Idaho hears case for marriage equality

A federal magistrate said she would come to a decision quickly after hearing oral arguments Monday in a marriage equality lawsuit seeking to turn Idaho from “red state” to rainbow.

Latta v. Otter was filed last November by the National Center for Lesbian Rights and private attorneys on behalf of four same-sex couples. Two were married in other states and are seeking recognition from the Idaho government, while the other two are hoping to wed in their home state.

The case is part of a flood of litigation to draw upon legal reasoning set forth nearly a year ago in a landmark Supreme Court decision that gutted the Defense of Marriage Act, which prevented federal agencies from recognizing same-sex nuptials. That law, the high court determined, violated gay people’s constitutional rights to equal protection and due process – which is the same argument that has since been used to topple all or part of state bans on same-sex marriage in nearly a dozen federal courts. And it was the same argument used Monday against Idaho’s voter-approved amendment defining marriage as a union between one man and one woman.

“This case is about one of the most basic principles in our constitutional system – the right of every person to be treated fairly and equally under the law,” said Deborah A. Ferguson, an attorney for the plaintiffs, on Monday. “The couples in this case simply want the same opportunities to protect themselves and their children that other Idaho families enjoy. We look forward to the day when Idaho law supports and respects all families, and when the protections of marriage are available to committed couples regardless of their gender.”

State attorneys argued that the same-sex marriage ban protects children, a notion U.S. Magistrate Judge Candy Dale pushed back against.

“They don’t have to submit anything to prove that they intend to have children,” said Dale, referring to heterosexual couples who apply for marriage licenses in the state.

Republican Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter has said he will spend whatever is necessary to defend Idaho’s constitutional ban.

Same-sex couples raising children in the Gem State recently won a victory when the Idaho Supreme Court ruled in February that it was legal for parents in same-sex relationships to adopt each other’s children – a process known as second-parent adoption – despite the state’s ban on same-sex nuptials. In other ways, however, the ban still deprives gay couples of crucial benefits.

“I don’t know what to think right now, to tell you the truth,” said Madelynn Lee Taylor, shortly after Monday’s proceedings, to The Spokesman-Review. Taylor, who served in the U.S. Navy from 1958 to 1964, recently made headlines when the Idaho Veterans Cemetery refused to reserve a join-spot for the 74-year-old and her late-wife to be buried together – a privilege granted to married, heterosexual couples. The story prompted a retired U.S. army lt. colonel to offer his own burial plot in the cemetery to the two women.

“The kids that I’ve known that have grown up in gay families have turned out OK,” said Taylor, countering the state’s argument. “I just sent a package off to a young man who’s in Bosnia – his two mothers did a good job with him.”

Marriage Equality

Federal court in Idaho hears case for marriage equality