SALMON, Idaho (Reuters) - A U.S. federal
judge struck down Idaho's ban on gay marriage on Tuesday, saying it
relegated same-sex couples to a second-class status in violation of
constitutional guarantees of equal protection under the law.
The ruling by U.S. Magistrate Judge Candy Dale was the latest in a
string of decisions by federal judges against state bans on same-sex
matrimony that, if upheld by higher courts, would sharply broaden
access to marriage for U.S. gay couples.
Dale said her decision would go into effect on Friday at 9 a.m.
local time, unless put on hold by a higher court.
Marriage rights have been extended to gay couples in 17 states and
the District of Columbia in a trend that has gained momentum since
the U.S. Supreme Court ruled last June that legally married same-sex
couples nationwide are eligible for federal benefits.
That decision, which struck down part of the 1996 federal Defense of
Marriage Act, has been cited by a number of federal judges,
including Dale, in subsequent opinions overturning state bans on gay
The Idaho lawsuit was brought in November by two lesbian couples
whose out-of-state marriages were invalid in Idaho and two couples
who sought to be married in Idaho but were denied licenses. The
lawsuit named Idaho Governor C.L. "Butch" Otter and Ada County Clerk
Chris Rich as defendants.
Otter on Tuesday vowed to appeal, arguing that Idaho voters had in
2006 "exercised their fundamental right" by approving an amendment
to the state constitution defining marriage as the union of a man
and a woman.
"Today's decision, while disappointing, is a small setback in a
long-term battle that will end at the U.S. Supreme Court," Otter
said in a statement.
Dale sided with the couples in finding that the state's marriage
laws intentionally discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation
and thus "do not survive any applicable level of constitutional
She dismissed claims by Idaho's governor that heterosexual marriage
focused on children's welfare rather than the "emotional interests
of adults" and protected religious liberty.
An attorney for the four lesbian couples who challenged Idaho's gay
marriage ban said his clients and their children "are thrilled."
"This decision means so much to them and to other same-sex couples
and families across the state, who have waited for decades to be
treated as equal citizens," said Shannon Minter, legal director of
the National Center for Lesbian Rights in San Francisco.
In Virginia, opponents of the state's ban on gay marriage told a
U.S. appeals court on Tuesday that the prohibition discriminated
against same-sex couples, while supporters said they considered it
an appropriate defense of a traditional family model.
(Writing by Laura Zuckerman; Editing by Cynthia Johnston, Eric Walsh
and Matt Driskill)