Last week’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling that legalized same-sex marriages in every state in the union was a landmark decision for gay rights, but reactions from Idaho elected officials show the debate over the issue could still continue.
The ruling, Obergefell vs. Hodges, swept away same-sex marriage bans in the last handful of states to prohibit it, but Idaho was among the 37 states where it was already legal.
Idaho’s gay marriage ban, the result of a 2006 constitutional amendment, was overturned by a federal appellate court last fall.
Three same-sex couples were issued marriage licenses the first day they were available, Oct. 15, but the county hasn’t issued any since then, County Clerk JoLynn Drage said Tuesday. That includes the time since Friday’s ruling, she said.
“It’s not been substantial for us,” Drage said.
President Barack Obama and Democrats in Congress heralded the decision, but it provoked a mix of reactions from Republicans, including in Idaho.
Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, blasted the ruling in a statement.
“Today, a slim majority of the Supreme Court took away the right of the people of each state to define marriage,” Labrador said Friday. “The decision turns the principles of democracy on their head.”
Gov. Butch Otter was more muted in public remarks, saying he believed firmly that states should retain the right to legally define marriage as between one man and one woman.
U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson also expressed disappointment in the ruling in a statement.
Rep. Donna Pence, D-Gooding and a member of the Blaine County legislative delegation, is one of 14 Democrats in Idaho’s Republican-dominated House of Representatives. She said she saw court rulings as the only possible path for same-sex partners to be married in the state.
“There was no way we would change it in the Legislature,” Pence said. “I don’t see that we would have got it changed in Idaho.”
Pence said she supports it as a matter of equality and fairness, but believes same-sex marriage will continue to be debated at the Statehouse in Boise and around the country. She sees a similarity to the ongoing debate over abortion that was never settled despite the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe vs. Wade decision.
With same-sex marriages now legally recognized, Pence said she could see the debate shifting into other arenas, such as whether businesses could retain a right to refuse service to gay couples based on the owner’s religious beliefs.
“I would not be surprised to see a bill,” Pence said. “We’ve passed a lot of bills that our attorney general is going to have to defend. I think maybe we have better things to do.”
In the wake of the court ruling, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said judges and other state workers could deny marriage licenses to same-sex couples based on their religious beliefs.
Whether any lawmaker or elected official in Idaho pursues a similar path remains to be seen, Pence said.
“I’ve always been very supportive of it,” Pence said. “I’m glad we go