BOISE – Four same-sex couples from Boise filed a federal lawsuit Friday challenging Idaho’s ban on gay marriage and its laws that deny recognition of same-sex marriages from other states.
The lawsuit says both violate the U.S. Constitution’s guarantees of due process and equal protection.
“Amber and I want all the same things that other families want,” said Rachael Robertson, an Iraq War veteran and one of the plaintiffs. “We want to build the life we dream of together, to share a home and a family name, and to be treated the same as any other married couple.”
She and her partner, Amber Beierle, applied for a marriage license two days earlier at the Ada County Recorder’s Office but were turned away because they’re a same-sex couple. Another couple, Shelia Robertson and Andrea Altmayer, had the same experience that day.
The other two couples named in the lawsuit were legally married in other states, but their unions aren’t recognized in Idaho. “The state of Idaho treats us as if our legal marriage never happened,” said Lori Watsen.
Idaho’s ban on same-sex marriage is one of the nation’s most far-reaching; it also forbids recognition of civil unions. The sweeping ban was approved by Idaho voters in a constitutional amendment in 2006; 63 percent of voters supported it. It requires that “a marriage between a man and a woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this state.”
The lawsuit brings the first challenge to Idaho’s ban since the U.S. Supreme Court made two key decisions bolstering the legal status of same-sex marriages earlier this year. It uses a legal strategy that has been effective in a similar case in Ohio, arguing that the state has historically recognized marriages performed in other states that would have been considered illegal under Idaho law, such as marriage between people of different races.
Idaho law barred marriages between white people and other races until 1959. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled those types of laws were unconstitutional in 1967.
Earlier this year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples are entitled to federal benefits. The high court also declined to decide a case from California this year, leaving in place a lower court’s ruling that struck down a ban on same-sex marriage in that state.
The four couples are represented by Boise attorneys Deborah A. Ferguson and Craig Durham, and the National Center for Lesbian Rights.
They include university instructors, a teacher of deaf children and a licensed social worker. Three of the couples are raising children.
The lawsuit, filed against Idaho Gov. Butch Otter and Ada County Recorder Chris Rich in their official capacities, asks that Idaho’s constitutional ban and all its laws forbidding recognition of same-sex marriages be voided, and that the state permit marriage licenses to be issued to same-sex couples.