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News >  Idaho

Gay couple in Moscow are first to be married in North Idaho

Tabitha Simmons, left, and Katherine Sprague are married by the Rev. Elizabeth Stevens on Friday at the Latah County Courthouse in Moscow. (Associated Press)
Tabitha Simmons, left, and Katherine Sprague are married by the Rev. Elizabeth Stevens on Friday at the Latah County Courthouse in Moscow. (Associated Press)

Katherine Sprague didn’t wake up on Friday knowing she’d be married at the end of the day.

If she had, she would have worn something nicer than jeans and a black T-shirt advertising “Free comic book day.”

But when word spread that the U.S. Supreme Court had lifted a stay preventing same-sex marriages in Idaho, she and her partner, Tabitha Simmons, left the Moscow comics and game shop they own in employee hands and walked three blocks to the Latah County courthouse.

After 24 years as a couple – 23 years since they held a ceremony honoring their commitment – they didn’t want to wait longer for the state’s recognition.

At the courthouse, officials weren’t sure what to do. State leaders had told county clerks not to issue licenses to same-sex couples until a federal appeals court issued another ruling. That never came Friday.

But the county prosecutor eventually agreed that the license should be issued. Sprague contacted their pastor at the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Palouse, who quickly arrived at the courthouse. Sprague sent a mass text to family and friends: “It’s a go.”

They got married on the courthouse grounds.

“We have always had the support of our friends and family and our community,” Sprague said in an interview late Friday. “This is the final piece.”

After a confusing week filled with court action and delays, Sprague and Simmons became the first same-sex couple to marry in North Idaho.

Most same-sex couples in the state, however, must wait until Tuesday for marriage licenses.

The full U.S. Supreme Court lifted a stay Friday afternoon that prevented same-sex marriages in the state, but courthouses around the state were waiting on the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for a final order. Late Friday it became clear that the court won’t issue that order before early next week.

“It’s just been a roller coaster of emotion,” said Machelle Migneault, 49, who rushed to the Ada County Courthouse Friday afternoon with her partner seeking a marriage license, only to be turned away.

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter, who had been vowing to continue the court fight even at midday Friday, issued a statement Friday evening saying the state will comply with any order the 9th Circuit issues, even if he disagrees with it.

“We are a nation of laws,” Otter said.

Courthouses are closed Monday for the Columbus Day holiday, so that means Tuesday morning is the earliest most counties could begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, barring any further delays.

Latah County Clerk Susan Petersen issued the license to Sprague and Simmons about 3:45 p.m; by the end of the day, she had issued seven to same-sex couples.

“We’re just trying to follow the law,” said Petersen, adding that she issued the licenses based on the advice of the county prosecutor.

That first license in Latah County was actually the second marriage license issued to a same-sex couple by an Idaho county clerk this week. Early Wednesday morning, Twin Falls County issued a marriage license to two men before learning that U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy had issued a last-minute stay halting the 9th Circuit’s Tuesday order making gay marriage legal in Idaho.

After Kennedy’s order, the 9th Circuit the next day recalled its immediate order. But its unanimous ruling issued Tuesday in Idaho’s case still stands: That Idaho’s ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional, violating the equal protection provisions of the United States Constitution.

Otter and Attorney General Lawrence Wasden have been trying every avenue to appeal that ruling. Wasden said earlier that he was planning to ask the 9th Circuit for a larger, 11-judge panel to review the unanimous decision of its three-judge panel. Otter has been pushing for an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

However, on Friday evening, Otter signaled he may be giving up the fight.

“The Supreme Court’s order lifting Justice Kennedy’s stay effectively allows same-sex marriage in Idaho as soon as the 9th Circuit directs compliance with its decision,” the governor said. “I disagree with the court’s conclusion, which negates the 2006 vote of the people of Idaho, is contrary to the values of most Idahoans and undermines fundamental states’ rights. But we are a nation of laws. Idaho now should proceed with civility and in an orderly manner to comply with any forthcoming order from the 9th Circuit.” 

Carl Tobias, a law professor at the University of Richmond in Richmond, Virginia, who’s been watching same-sex marriage cases around the country, said Friday’s U.S. Supreme Court order came after Kennedy, the circuit justice for the region, referred the stay question to the full Supreme Court for review – and the full court rejected the stay.

He said he believes that signals that the only way the high court will take up a same-sex marriage case is if there’s a split between the various appellate circuit courts. So far, all have struck down bans on gay marriage as unconstitutional.

In other North Idaho counties, no licenses were issued. Kootenai County Clerk Jim Brannon said he is waiting for the 9th Circuit before issuing licenses to same-sex couples.

Across the street from the Kootenai County courthouse, Hitching Post owner the Rev. Donald Knapp had no comment on the Supreme Court’s action. The owner of the wedding chapel said in May that he would refuse to perform same sex marriages.

Bonner County Clerk Ann Dutson-Sater said, “We’re on hold.” She said her office has had “lots of phone calls” about when it will issue licenses.

Sprague said while she and Simmons know many same-sex couples who opted to marry out-of-state, they wanted an Idaho marriage license.

“We felt very strongly that we would not get married until we could do it here in Latah County – our home.”

Staff writer Nina Culver and the Associated Press contributed to this report.
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