In Idaho it is unconstitutional for the state to recognize same-sex unions, yet officials with local government agencies are talking about the “what-now” ramifications in light of a court decision last week.
The Supreme Court of the United States ruled June 26 that the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) law is unconstitutional. Discussions have now emerged in the U.S. Congress about legislation that would seek to ensure that benefits are extended to full-time federal employees with same-sex partners.
“After this Supreme Court ruling, our constitutional amendment remains intact,” said U.S. Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho. “That’s the good news,” he told IdahoReporter.com, referencing what is officially known as Idaho Amendment 2, an amendment to the Idaho Constitution that legally defines marriage within the state and which was approved by 63 percent of the voters in 2006. The amendment makes it unconstitutional for the state to recognize or perform same-sex marriages or civil unions.
Despite the existence of constitutional amendments that sanction the traditional definition of marriage in more than half of the 50 states, U.S. Sen. Diane Feinstein, D-Calif., and U.S. Congressman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., are both planning to introduce federal legislation that would further strengthen the legal cause of same-sex marriage.
According to Nadler, the goal of the legislation would be to completely repeal the DOMA law and to ensure that employees of federal government agencies receive benefits for same-sex partners in all 50 states.
“This is probably going to be one of those social battles that continues on for a long time and I suspect that Idaho may face legal challenges on the issue,” Risch commented. “I believe Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden is ready to defend Idaho’s law.” Wasden has stated that the high court’s ruling will have no immediate impact on Idaho.
In the midst of the national dialog and upheaval, some local leaders in Idaho have begun to discuss changes in how same-sex unions are addressed.
“It’s actually something we need to do,” said Dan Gookin, Coeur d’Alene city councilman. “I’ve actually brought this up before, publicly, and it got a gasp from the audience,” he told IdahoReporter.com.
“We actually already have a domestic partner policy,” said Dan Riedner, acting city attorney in Moscow. “In 2007 our council passed an ordinance stipulating that the city will contribute to health insurance benefits of same-sex partners of our city employees.”
Riedner said there has been discussion about a city ordinance that would require private employers to provide such benefits. “Certainly there has been talk about that on and off over the years, but none of that has risen to the level of City Council action. I have not read the Supreme Court decision as yet, but as far as I’m concerned the Idaho Constitution still forbids us to recognize same-sex unions in that way. It is state law and, from my vantage point, we are obliged to live by it.”
Gookin, however, remains intent on changing Coeur d’Alene’s policy with its employees. “It’s not an issue for us right now because, as far as I am aware, we do not have any city employees currently who live in same-sex relationships. But we certainly have unmarried employees who live in domestic partnerships and we need to eventually extend benefits to those relationships,” he said.
But, Gookin added, “Now isn’t the time for us, because we’re about ready to experience a shock wave of insurance price increases with Obamacare next year and expanding insurance coverage to domestic partners would likely increase our costs even further. But it is something that Coeur d’Alene needs to do, and we’ll get there eventually.”