4 lesbian couples file to overturn Idaho’s marriage ban

Published: Friday, Nov. 8, 2013 1:30 p.m. CDT

BOISE, Idaho — Two Boise couples married in other states were joined by two couples who tried to obtain a marriage license in Idaho sued Friday to overturn Idaho’s ban on same-sex marriage.

The case, supported by the National Center for Lesbian Rights in San Francisco, was filed in U.S. District Court against Gov. Butch Otter and Ada County Clerk/Auditor/Recorder Chris Rich.

The couples are Sue Latta and Traci Ehlers, who were married in California in 2008; Lori and Sharene Watsen, who were married in New York in 2011 and have a infant son; Sheila Robertson and Andrea Altmayer, who have been together 16 years and are raising a 4-year-old son; and Amber Beierle and Rachael Robertson, who have been together three years. The unmarried couples sought an Idaho marriage license from Ada County and were denied.

The plaintiffs argue that Idaho’s constitution and statutes barring same-sex marriage for couples married legally in other states violate the U.S. Constitution’s guarantees of equal protection and due process. The unmarried couples say they “have been harmed by Idaho’s refusal to allow them” to marry.

Rich said his deputy acted in properly in denying marriage licenses to the Robertson and Altmayer and to Beierle and Robertson. The couples appeared at the Ada County Courthouse with their attorneys Wednesday, Rich said.

“We’re following the law and until the Legislature or the courts change it, I will continue to follow the law and not issue same-sex licenses,” Rich said Friday.

Rich said that as far as he knows the two requests were the first made in Ada County.

Lori Watsen, a social worker, said in a news release that Idaho treats the couple “as if our marriage never happened.” Sharene Watsen is a physician assistant and is the mother of a six-month-old son.

“We are two dedicated, loving parents who have made work and other life changes to be able to provide our son a loving, safe home, but Idaho does not recognize me as his legal parent, so I have no official status in his life,” Watsen said.

Latta, an artist and adjunct professor at Boise State, and Ehlers, a small-business owner, have two adult children and two grandchildren.

Said Latta: “Especially as Traci and I get older, it frightens me that we do not have the same legal protections and respect that other married couples take for granted in the event that one of us becomes ill or dies. We are legally married, and we would simply like the state of Idaho to respect our marriage just as it does those of opposite-sex couples.”

Altmayer is a massage therapist. Robertson teaches deaf children.

Said Altmayer: “Because Shelia is not recognized as a legal parent of our son, I fear what would happen to our family if I became ill and unable to make decisions for him. If we could marry, we would be legally recognized as a family and would have all the same legal protections as others.”

Beierle is the visitor services coordinator at the Old Idaho Penitentiary, and Robertson is the warehouse manager for Keller Supply. Robertson spent five years in the Idaho Army National Guard serving in Iraq

“Idaho is our home, and in my heart I believe it’s the best state in the nation,” Robertson said. “People in Idaho believe in treating people fairly. Amber and I want all the same things that other families want. We want to build the life we dream of together, to share a home and a family name, and to be treated the same as any other married couple.”

Local counsel for the couples are Deborah Ferguson and Craig Durham of Boise.

Said Ferguson: “Idaho is part of the great Western tradition that strongly values freedom and fairness. Most people in this state, like most Americans, believe that the law should respect individual freedom and treat all families equally. The couples in this case deserve to be treated with equal fairness and respect, including having the same freedom to marry that others enjoy.’’

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