News » Features

For Better, For Worse, For Richer, For Poorer

An economic boost ahead, marriage equality for same-sex couples and the fight to keep it from happening

by

Steve Martin (not the actor) and his husband, Jim, have been married three times. The first wedding was on Oct. 11, 1998--National Coming Out Day--at the Bishop's House next door to the Old Idaho Penitentiary.

It was a nice autumn day. They wore suits and ties, had a cake and a reception, a photographer, and both a DJ and a band. Some 80 guests watched as Martin's mother and sister walked him down the aisle.

"We wanted to celebrate our lives together with our friends and family, and we did," said Martin, who left a career in journalism to become regional development organizer of Pride Foundation for Idaho. "It was long before marriage equality was happening anywhere, and we didn't think it was ever going to happen, really, in our lifetime."

They thought that was the end of it.

Then, in 2001, Vermont legalized civil unions and the couple thought, "Why not?" They flew back east and had a their civil union with a justice of the peace on a summer day, next to a lake. They wore shorts and Hawaiian shirts, knowing the ceremony wouldn't be officially recognized back home.

They definitely didn't plan on another marriage, until rules governing federal benefits started to change and allowed same-sex couples to file their federal taxes together.

"So we went to Seattle and got married on our 15-year anniversary--15 years to the day," Martin said. Their third wedding took place at the Bacon Mansion, a bed and breakfast in the city.

Their home state, of course, refuses to recognize any of their marriages. That means Martin and his husband have to worry about things most heterosexual couples never even think about; things like visiting each other in the hospital, making life decisions for one another in moments of crisis, not being able to see each other in a near-death situation, not being able to file state taxes together, not being able to share health insurance, not benefiting from each other's Social Security--not being able to legally introduce each other at a party as "my husband."

"Being a gay person, living in the state of Idaho, there's always a layer of extra stress on your life that's always there no matter what, because you don't have protections on a statewide level. It's like you're always trying to justify your existence all the time," Martin said.

As gay marriage is legalized around the country, it is fast becoming a routine part of society. Yet anti-gay rights groups and conservative leaders like Idaho Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter fear catastrophe will ensue if same-sex couples are allowed to legally marry. For the 19 states that have already made the transition, catastrophe hasn't happened. The states have seen a slight economic boost as well as a handful of administrative headaches disappear. Will the legalization of gay marriage radically change Idaho? Probably not so much. But the impact it will have on same-sex couples who reside in this state will be inarguably significant.

Martin said he looks forward to his state recognizing his marriage as the federal government does.

"We still go out to dinner, we still take out our trash, we still do all those things that other people do," Martin said. "It just means that more people like me and my husband will be recognized as equals, like everyone else."

No matter what the fate of same-sex marriage is in Idaho, Martin said he and Jim definitely won't be getting married to each other again.

[page[

Holding "Chaos" at Bay

According to a Gallup poll, 2.7 percent of Idaho's population identify as gay or lesbian, equating to 31,665 adult Idahoans. That number, according to the Williams Institute, of the University of California-Los Angeles School of Law, is more like 3.5 percent at the national level--about 11 million people.

When four lesbian couples were denied marriage licenses in Idaho, the women filed a federal lawsuit against the state on Nov. 8, 2013. Their lawsuit was the first to challenge Idaho's constitutional ban of same-sex marriage.

On May 13, U.S. Magistrate Judge Candy Dale sided with them, striking down the ban and legalizing gay marriage; but only days later, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals granted Otter's request to halt the lifting of Idaho's same-sex marriage ban.

The governor budgeted $1 million in public money to protect the ban. In a public statement, he said, "My first and highest responsibility is to defend the Idaho Constitution and the will of the people of Idaho as expressed at the ballot box. Idaho voters decided against this issue in 2006 by defining 'marriage' in our Constitution as a union between a man and a woman. As Governor, it is my duty to aggressively support that decision throughout the legal process. We did that before Judge Dale with arguments that go to the heart of Idaho's values and respect for the family unit as it's been embraced by society for millennia."

Otter's public statements over the spring underscored his commitment to "upholding the will of the people and defending our Constitution." When the stay was granted, he issued a statement of thanks to the 9th Circuit, claiming that if same-sex marriage was legalized, "chaos and confusion" would follow.

Other organizations that act as opponents of same-sex marriage, such as the National Organization for Marriage, express fears of a slippery slope--claiming legalization of gay marriage would open the floodgates to any composition of marriage, including polygamy. Same-sex marriage has been viewed as a threat to religious liberty--most recently reflected in the failed "religious freedom" bills introduced by Boise Republican Rep. Lynn Luker, which would have granted legal protections to those who refuse to offer services on grounds of religious belief--or degrade the so-called "traditional" family. Some, like the Family Research Council, go so far as to fear that God will punish society should same-sex marriage become legally accepted..

"But we should not be surprised by this darkened understanding (Eph 4:18), it is the byproduct of a people who have forgotten God," said Family Research Council President Tony Perkins on two Supreme Court rulings in favor of same-sex marriage. "Every follower of Christ should be troubled by our nation's continued rejection of God's revealed truth."

Though Otter repeats that he's upholding the wants of his constituents in fighting same-sex marriage legalization in his state, the American Civil Liberties Union of Idaho presented several surveys of Idahoans' opinions on similar issues having to do with discrimination. One statewide survey conducted by Moore Information in 2011 showed 81 percent of Idahoans believed it should be illegal to fire someone because of their sexual orientation.

Regardless, the legality of same-sex marriage in Idaho will remain a question mark until the case is taken up by the 9th Circuit in San Francisco on Sept. 8.