Federal Judge Declares Idaho's Gay Marriage Ban Unconstitutional

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(CNN) -- Idaho became the latest state Tuesday in which a federal judge declared its ban on gay marriage to be unconstitutional, delivering yet another victory for same-sex proponents -- albeit not necessarily a definitive one.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Candy Wagahoff Dale issued her sweeping opinion knocking down Idaho state laws and a state constitutional amendment, passed in 2006, as failing to live up to the U.S. Constitution's 14th Amendment guarantee no "state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."

"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," Dale wrote. "These laws do not withstand any applicable level of constitutional scrutiny."

The judge's order takes effect at 9 a.m. Friday.

It was not immediately known if state authorities in Idaho, who have been fighting to keep in place the law restricting marriage as being between a man and a woman, will appeal this decision.

That's what has happened in several other states, in which federal judges overturned state same-sex marriage bans only to have those decisions stayed on appeal.

A federal appeals court last month heard challenges to same-sex marriage bans in Utah and Oklahoma. Appeals courts in coming weeks and months will hear similar challenges over current bans in Nevada, Texas, Kentucky, Ohio, and Michigan.

The three judges on the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals heard related arguments Tuesday. Their final decision could affect Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Maryland, the latter being the only one of the five with legalized same-sex marriage. After that, the Supreme Court could then weigh in.

And late last week in Arkansas, Pulaski County Circuit Judge Chris Piazza declared the state's voter-approved gay marriage ban to violate the Arkansas constitution.

The plaintiffs in the Idaho case included four same-sex couples. They included two of whom married in others states and wanted their unions recognized in Idaho, and two of whom had children born while they were a couple.

Among other opinions, Dale shot down Idaho authorities' argument that limiting marriage to a man and a woman is in children's best interests. For example, the judge says there's nothing preventing heterosexual couples from marrying simply for a tax break, or stopping them from marrying because they can't or don't want to have children or are "non-optimal parents."

Furthermore, the judge said, those children who have gay or lesbian parents might pay the price, emotionally and otherwise, under the state ban.

"Idaho's marriage laws fail to advance the state's interest because they withhold legal, financial and social benefits from the very group they purportedly protect -- children," Dale wrote.

The judge also described the state's contention that gay marriage should be banned in the name of "religious liberty" to be "myopic."

"No doubt many faiths around the world and in Idaho have longstanding traditions of man-woman marriage rooted in scripture," Dale said. "But not all religions share the view that opposite-sex marriage is a theological imperative."

Even if a majority of people in Idaho oppose same-sex marriage, that doesn't mean their opinion should equate to law, according to the judge.

She stated: "This case asks a basic and enduring question about the essence of American government: Whether the will of the majority, based as it often is on sincere beliefs and democratic consensus, may trump the rights of a minority."


Greg Kabel

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