A federal judge in Idaho has ruled that the state’s ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional because it violates couple’s equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment. In a strongly worded opinion, Chief Magistrate Judge Candy Wagahoff Dale ruled that the couples who sued are “entitled to extraordinary remedies because of their extraordinary injuries,” declaring that the state is permanently enjoined form enforcing the ban as of Friday morning.
Dale’s decision opens with a quote from Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmum, who dissented in the 1986 case Bowers v. Hardwick, which upheld state’s rights to criminalize same-sex relations (“sodomy”) — later overturned by Lawrence v. Texas in 2003. Blackmum wrote:
It is precisely because the issue raised by this case touches the heart of what makes individuals what they are that we should be especially sensitive to the rights of those whose choices upset the majority.
In her introduction, Dale similarly concluded, “Idaho’s Marriage Laws deny its gay and lesbian citizens the fundamental right to marry and relegate their families to a stigmatized, second-class status without sufficient reason for doing so.”
The case was brought by four couples, two of whom are already legally married in other states and two of whom wish to marry in Idaho. Dale’s decision notes that, in addition to the state ban directly violating these couples’ rights, the policy of recognizing some marriages from other states but specifically not same-sex marriages “creates a two-tiered system for out-of-state marriages.”
One of the arguments made by Idaho state officials in the case was the same-sex marriage is a “new right,” something different from the heterosexual right to marry that has long been recognized by the courts. Dale dismissed this argument, noting that “the right to marry is an individual right, belonging to all. If every individual enjoys a constitutional right to marry, what is the substance of that right for gay or lesbian individuals who cannot marry their partners of choice?” She then reflected back to Bowers, noting that the Supreme Court made the same mistake then by declining to “announce a fundamental right to engage in homosexual sodomy.”
Idaho Gov. Butch Otter (R) attempted to justify the state’s marriage laws with four claims, all of which Dale dismissed. First, Otter argued that the marriage laws promote child welfare, but Dale countered that raising children is not a prerequisite or expectation of marriage, and thus not relevant to limiting the institution to different-sex couples, adding that “the Governor’s child welfare rationales disregard the welfare of children with same-sex parents.
Secondly, Otter contended that “Idaho’s interest in child welfare is served by directing the State’s limited resources to opposite-sex couples.” Judge Dale was not impressed, because “the Supreme Court has rejected the argument that cost-cutting is a sufficient reason for denying benefits to a discrete group.” Further, the same rationale continues to hurt the children of same-sex couples, what Dale called a “State-endorsed message of unworthiness.”
Third, the state argued that marriage is a state’s right, so the ban on same-sex couples marrying is acceptable for reasons of federalism. Citing Windsor, last summer’s decision overturning the federal Defense of Marriage Act, Dale explained that “‘federalism’ is no answer where, as here, individuals claim their state government has trampled their constitutional rights.”
Lastly, Otter argued that the ban on same-sex marriage supports religious liberty and avoids religion-centered conflicts. Dale described this view as “myopic,” noting that even “some of the Plaintiffs actively worship in faiths that recognize and support their unions.”
Marking the 11th such decision by a federal court in the past year, Dale concluded that Idaho’s laws do nothing more than promote discrimination against same-sex couples: “Idaho’s Marriage Laws deny same-sex couples the economic, practical, emotional, and spiritual benefits of marriage, relegating each couple to a stigmatized, second-class status. Plaintiffs suffer these injuries not because they are unqualified to marry, start a family, or grow old together, but because of who they are and whom they love.”
(HT: Freedom to Marry.)