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Family & Relationships

Same-Sex Couples File Federal Lawsuit Seeking the Freedom to Marry in Idaho

(Boise, ID, November 8, 2013)—Today, four same-sex couples filed a federal lawsuit in Boise challenging Idaho’s laws that prohibit same-sex couples from marrying and refuse to respect the legal marriages of same-sex couples who married in other states.

The couples, all from Boise, include university instructors, a teacher of deaf children, and a military veteran who served with the Idaho National Guard in Iraq. Three of the couples are raising children together.

The lawsuit argues that Idaho’s laws barring same-sex couples from marrying and prohibiting the state from recognizing the marriages of same-sex couples who married in other states violates the United States Constitution’s guarantees of equal protection and due process.

The couples are Sue Latta and Traci Ehlers, Lori and Sharene Watsen, Shelia Robertson and Andrea Altmayer, and Amber Beierle and Rachael Robertson. They are represented by Boise attorneys Deborah A. Ferguson and Craig Durham and the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR).

Rachael Robertson, who manages a commercial supply warehouse and previously served a tour of duty in Iraq as a member of the Idaho Army National Guard, said: “Idaho is our home, and in my heart I believe it’s the best state in the nation.  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.”

Lori Watsen, a licensed social worker, said:  “Sharene and I were legally married in New York and had a wedding celebration here in Boise with more than 200 supportive family members and friends. But the State of Idaho treats us as if our legal marriage never happened.  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.  We have been forced to go through special legal steps and incur costs to protect our family as much as possible, but those measures cannot replace all of the protections that are given to married couples.”

Sue Latta, an accomplished professional artist and adjunct professor at Boise State University, said:  “Throughout my life, I have tried to be a responsible citizen and to set a good example for my children and grandchildren.  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.”

Andrea Altmayer, a licensed massage therapist, said: “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.”

Said attorney 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. “

Added NCLR Legal Director Shannon Minter: “The law should support stable families, not make it harder for committed couples to support one another and protect their children.  Barring same-sex couples from marriage causes great harms to these families and their children while helping no one.”

About the Plaintiffs

Sue Latta and Traci Ehlers

Sue Latta and Traci Ehlers, of Boise, have been together for 10 years and were married in California in 2008. Sue is an accomplished professional artist and adjunct professor at Boise State University. She has been deeply involved in the arts community in Boise, including serving as a member of the Mayor’s Task Force to revitalize the Boise Visual Chronicle and on Boise State University’s Art Advisory Board.  Traci is an owner of a local small business.  They have two adult children and two grandchildren.

Lori and Sharene Watsen

Lori and Sharene Watsen, of Boise, have been together for four years and were married in New York in 2011. Lori is a licensed clinical social worker and associate field director for Boise State University’s School of Social Work. Sharene is a physician assistant with a local medical specialty group.  They have a six month old child, and they are seeking the freedom to marry to ensure that they both can be recognized as legal parents and provide their child with as much legal security and protection as possible.

Shelia Robertson and Andrea Altmayer

Shelia Robertson and Andrea Altmayer have been together for 16 years and reside in Boise. Sheila is a teacher of deaf children and a nationally certified sign language interpreter. Andrea is a certified massage therapist with a bachelor’s degree in health sciences. They have one child, who turned four in November. On November 6, 2013, they applied for a marriage license at the Ada County Recorder’s Office in Boise and were rejected because they are a same-sex couple.

Amber Beierle and Rachael Robertson

Amber Beierle and Rachael Robertson have been together for three years and reside in Boise. Amber is an education specialist and manager of a historic site.  Rachael manages a commercial supply warehouse and is a veteran of the Idaho Army National Guard, with five years of service. Rachael served a tour of duty in Iraq and was awarded a combat medal and combat action badge, as well as a good soldier conduct medal. On November 6, 2013, the couple applied for a marriage license at the Ada County Recorder’s Office in Boise and were rejected because they are a same-sex couple.

Read the complaint and more about the  case.

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