Gay and lesbian couples in Idaho could start getting married as soon as Friday after a judge ruled the western state's ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional.
The judge, U.S. District Magistrate Judge Candy Dale, on Wednesday refused to put gay marriages on hold pending an appeal from the state's governor, saying Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter's appeal isn't likely to succeed.
Dale wrote in her decision Tuesday evening that Idaho's laws barring same-sex marriage unconstitutionally deny gay and lesbian citizens their fundamental right to marry. Ten other federal district courts have issued similar rulings supporting gay marriage rights, many in conservative states.
Otter and Attorney General Lawrence Wasden both asked the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for an emergency stay while they fight the lower court's ruling.
Dale said the state must issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples starting at 9 a.m. Friday. Idaho, which has a large Mormon and evangelical Christian population, is one of the most conservative states in the U.S.
Gay marriage is legal in 17 states and the District of Columbia.
"The Plaintiffs are entitled to extraordinary remedies because of their extraordinary injuries," Dale wrote in her decision Tuesday, saying same-sex couples in Idaho have been denied the economic, emotional and spiritual benefits of marriage.
Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a law forbidding the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages was unconstitutional, a decision that stopped short of declaring gay marriage legal across the country. Since then, lower-court judges have repeatedly cited the decision when striking down same-sex marriage bans that were enacted in many states after Massachusetts became the first state to recognize gay marriages in 2004.
"This is exciting news," said Monica Hopkins, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Idaho. "The court was right to strike down this discriminatory law."
Otter already has said he intends to appeal the ruling. He has cited the state's constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.
"In 2006, the people of Idaho exercised their fundamental right, reaffirming that marriage is the union of a man and a woman," he said in a statement. He said Tuesday's decision, "while disappointing, is a small setback in a long-term battle that will end at the U.S. Supreme Court."
Four Idaho couples in November filed the lawsuit against the governor and Ada County Clerk Chris Rich challenging the marriage ban. They are Sue Latta and Traci Ehlers; Lori and Sharene Watsen; Shelia Robertson and Andrea Altmayer; and Amber Beierle and Rachael Robertson.
Latta and Ehlers married in 2008 in California, and the Watsens married in 2011 in New York
Beierle and Rachael Robertson said they would be back at the courthouse Friday morning to get a marriage license.
"The first person I called when I got the news was my mom, and she said, 'I'm so proud of you Amby,'" Beierle said, holding back tears.
Also Wednesday, a federal judge ruled a national group cannot defend Oregon's same-sex marriage ban after the state's attorney general refused to do so. U.S. District Judge Michael McShane denied the motion to intervene from the National Organization for Marriage.
The decision paves the way for a ruling on the constitutionality of Oregon's same-sex marriage ban, which could come at any time.
And in Arkansas, the state Supreme Court rejected the state attorney general's request for a delay of a judge's ruling that overturned the state's constitutional ban on gay marriage.
The high court turned down the request that would have halted the issuance of same-sex marriage licenses, but it appears that unions between same-sex couples may stop anyway.
The court had pointed counties to a separate state law that bars clerks from issuing same-sex marriage licenses. Two counties issued licenses earlier Wednesday despite that prohibition, but the state's largest county later said it would stop.