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Same-sex marriage begins in Idaho as 9th Circuit lifts stay

BOISE – Same-sex couples can wed in Idaho starting today – one day after a federal appellate court struck down Idaho’s ban on gay marriage.

After the ruling was announced Tuesday, Idaho leaders argued that they would have a week to appeal the decision before county clerks would have to allow same-sex marriage.

But Boundary County Clerk Glenda Poston said she received an email from the Idaho Association of Counties at 6:30 p.m. that said “Each county clerk must be ready to issue marriage licenses when the courthouse opens for business on Wednesday, Oct. 8.”

The email said the association had consulted with the Idaho attorney general, Poston said.

Friday’s 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling, which also struck down Nevada’s ban, was unanimous. Tuesday evening, the court issued an order making its decision effective immediately, clearing the way for Idaho same-sex couples to marry.

“It means so much for the courts to recognize our family and say that we must be treated equally,” said Lori Watsen, one of the plaintiffs in the Idaho case who sued to end the ban. “Our son will be able to grow up in a world where the state treats his family the same as other families.”

Idaho voters passed the state’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage in 2006. A federal judge ruled May 13 that the ban is unconstitutional, but her ruling was put on hold while the state appealed.

In response to Tuesday’s ruling, Republican U.S. Rep. Raul Labrador said elected leaders must work to guarantee “the religious liberty of those who continue to believe in traditional marriage.”

“Marriage should not be redefined by unelected judges who continue to trump the will of the people of the various states,” he said in a statement. Poston said county clerks had been prepared to issue same-sex marriage licenses before the original ruling was put on hold.

“I would assume that those same plans (still) exist,” Poston said. “According to this message, we’ll be ready to go.”

Poston said if a same-sex couple requests a license, she will issue one, though changes may have to be made on forms to terms like bride and groom.

“If the verbiage isn’t there and we have to make a strike-through, we will,” she said.

The appeals court overturned both states’ bans on equal-protection grounds, finding them unconstitutional – and rejected Idaho’s arguments that restricting marriage to just opposite-sex couples is better for children.

“Raising children is hard,” Judge Stephen Reinhardt wrote in the unanimous ruling. “Marriage supports same-sex couples in parenting their children, just as it does opposite-sex couples.”

Reinhardt wrote that the Idaho and Nevada bans “impose profound legal, financial, social and psychic harms on numerous citizens of those states.” He wrote, “Classifying some families, and especially their children, as of lesser value should be repugnant to all those in this nation who profess to believe in ‘family values.’ ”

Deborah Ferguson, attorney for the four Idaho lesbian couples who sued to overturn the ban, said she had planned to file an emergency motion Tuesday night to immediately lift the stay that was in effect during the appeal – but before she could do so, the 9th Circuit Tuesday evening issued a five-word order lifting the stay.

“There should be really nothing stopping the state from issuing them at this point,” Ferguson said.

That means there’s no seven-day delay, as the state had anticipated, while it decides whether or how it wants to appeal.

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter called the ruling “disappointing, but not unexpected.” Both he and Attorney General Lawrence Wasden said they are weighing the state’s legal options. On Monday, the nation’s top court unexpectedly rejected appeals from five states seeking to preserve their bans. The decision cleared the way for a dramatic expansion of gay marriage in the United States and might have signaled that it’s only a matter of time before same-sex couples can marry in all 50 states.

The appellate court that overturned Idaho’s ban on Tuesday also has jurisdiction in three other states that still have marriage bans in place: Alaska, Arizona and Montana. Lawsuits challenging bans in those states are still pending in lower courts and have not reached the court.

Gathered in front of the federal courthouse in Idaho, three of the couples who successfully sued to overturn Idaho’s ban on same-sex marriage, along with their attorneys, were celebrating Tuesday afternoon.

“I’m ecstatic,” Amber Beierle said. “I’m grateful to be a part of this process.”

Sue Latta, the lead plaintiff, was asked if she ever thought she’d see this day come in Idaho.

“If you’d asked me that two years ago, I would’ve said no,” she said, “but as of six months ago, I was certain that it would.”

Spokesman-Review reporter Nina Culver and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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