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Idaho same-sex marriage ban nullified (UPDATED)

UPDATED Wednesday 7:28 p.m.   State officials in Idaho on Wednesday evening asked the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to put on hold, during an appeal, the federal judge’s decision striking down the state’s same-sex marriage ban.  On Wednesday morning, that judge refused to stay her ruling.


A federal judge in Boise, ordering Idaho state and local officials to begin allowing same-sex couples to get married on Friday morning, struck down all laws in the state that permit or recognize only man-woman marriages.  A string of modern Supreme Court rulings, Chief Magistrate Judge Candy W. Dale said in a fifty-seven page ruling, sent a message that was “unmistakable — all individuals have a fundamental right to marry.”

The judge said nothing in the ruling about a newly filed state request that she put on hold a ruling against the state ban.  (That request is discussed in an earlier post.)  Whether her ruling does go into effect on Friday at 9 a.m. local time (11 a.m. Eastern) may depend on the steps state officials now attempt to get it blocked — either by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit or by the Supreme Court.

Judge Dale (who is not a regular federal district judge but who had the consent of all parties to decide the case) flatly rejected the argument by Idaho Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter and other state officials that same-sex couples were seeking a new constitutional right to marry, exclusively for gays and lesbians.

Over and over, the Supreme Court, the judge said, has treated a right to marry as “fundamental” under the Constitution.  The only thing at issue before her, she wrote, was whether that right could be denied to couples solely because of their sexual orientation.  Such a denial, she found, violated the constitutional rights to both due process and equal legal treatment.

Supreme Court decisions on gay rights, the judge declared, instruct “not only that gay and lesbian individuals enjoy the same fundamental rights to make intimate personal choices as heterosexual individuals enjoy, but that judicial attempts to parse those rights out of existence will be met with a harsh rebuke.”

Judge Dale’s ruling was the eleventh by a federal trial judge to nullify a state ban on same-sex marriage.  And, like the others, she relied to a considerable degree on the reasoning of the Supreme Court last June in United States v. Windsor, striking down a part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act.

Although the Windsor decision did not spell out a specific constitutional test for judging laws that treat homosexuals less favorably, Judge Dale was required to treat that ruling as having imposed a stricter test on such laws.  As a trial-level judge, she had to follow a January ruling by the Ninth Circuit interpreting the Windsor decision as embracing a “heightened scrutiny” constitutional standard for such cases.  (Idaho is a part of the Ninth Circuit’s region.)

The Idaho judge used that test in finding a denial of equal protection for same-sex couples seeking to marry or to have their existing out-of-state marriages formally recognized by the state.  But Judge Dale said the Idaho ban would have failed any constitutional test, because the state had not offered valid reasons to justify it.

She went over the history of Idaho’s passage of various laws in the past quarter-century to make sure that marriage was allowed only for man-woman couples, and concluded that each of those laws had the specific aim of excluding gays and lesbians solely because of their sexual orientation.

It was in her analysis of the claim by same-sex couples that Idaho’s ban violated their right to due process that Judge Dale spelled out most fully her finding that marriage is a fundamental right that is enjoyed by individuals as they make their own choices in a life partner.

The Supreme Court has dealt with the marriage right in several major decisions, the judge noted, demonstrating “that the right to marry is an individual right, belonging to all.”



Recommended Citation: Lyle Denniston, Idaho same-sex marriage ban nullified (UPDATED), SCOTUSblog (May. 13, 2014, 10:50 PM),