3 Effects Of Legalizing Gay Marriage In Idaho (Besides Gay Marriage)

Oct 14, 2014

Credit Emilie Ritter Saunders / Boise State Public Radio

The Idaho attorney general has asked his legal staff to start looking at what implications gay marriage will have for the state.

Same-sex marriage is set to start Wednesday morning in Idaho under an order from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. And the county clerk’s office isn’t the only place where the ruling is expected to take effect.

University of Idaho law professor Richard Seamon said many rights of marriage fall into the “death and taxes” category -- like joint tax returns and medical decisions.

But he said there’s another important right the ruling should provide: the right to divorce. Up until now, same-sex Idaho couples married in another state couldn’t end their marriages because Idaho didn’t consider them married in the first place. They had to take up residence in a state that did recognize their marriage.

“Oddly enough, divorce is a benefit of sorts that has been denied to gay couples,” Seamon said.

He said recognized gay marriage also means the state should have to grant Madelynn Taylor, a Navy vet, the right to be buried with her wife in the state's veterans cemetery. The state denied her request earlier this year.

Seamon added that public universities, state agencies, and local governments also must extend family benefits to the same-sex spouses of their employees.

And the ruling may have wider implications. Seamon said the 9th Circuit determined denying the right to marry is unconstitutional in part because government shouldn’t deny any rights to people based on their sexual orientation.

“So all forms of discrimination, not only against same-sex couples but gay and lesbian individuals, is going to be unconstitutional.”

At least for government agencies. Seamon argued that means it could be illegal for public schools, for example, to fire or refuse to hire a teacher for being gay, though he expects some of these disputes to end up back in court.

A spokesman for the attorney general said the office is reviewing all potential impacts on Idaho laws and policies and will advise state agencies on how to comply with the court’s ruling.

The ruling doesn’t make sexual orientation a protected class like gender or race under Idaho’s discrimination laws. Private businesses, for example, could still refuse service to gays and lesbians.

However, Seamon said it could be different story in the seven cities in Idaho that have passed their own ordinances outlawing discrimination.

The owners of a wedding chapel in Coeur d'Alene called the Hitching Post have previously told media they would close their doors if same-sex marriage becomes legal in Idaho. The owners say officiating gay weddings conflicts with their religious beliefs and Coeur d'Alene has an ordinance that prohibits discrimination against gays, lesbians and trans people.

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