Drawing the line on gay marriages

Opinions mixed on what benefits Idaho couples would receive by marrying in Washington

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Jon Downing, of Coeur d'Alene, believes gay and lesbian couples living in Idaho will travel across state lines to marry in Washington state.

The state of Washington has been abuzz with celebrations since Dec. 6, when its now-voter-approved gay marriage law went into effect.

Same-sex couples have lined up at Washington courthouses to not only officialize their plans to grow old together, but to also gain the legal benefits of a wedding license like hospital visitation rights and tax breaks.

"This is now a normal part of business in the state of Washington," said Spokane County Auditor Vicky Dalton.

Her office saw 23 same-sex couples sign marriage licenses on the first day, she added.

"That's a decent day in June, for us," Dalton said. "We expected more, but same-gender couples can now come in any time they want. They don't have to rush. I think there's a lot of couples waiting until they can have the ceremony that they really want, which is in the summer and with family being able to attend."

That's not just for Washington residents, either.

Gay couples from Idaho, and anywhere else in the world, are also now legally allowed to marry in Washington, Dalton said. Marriage licenses for a gay couple can be obtained in all 39 Washington counties, with the same requirements for gay and different gender couples.

There is one caveat, though.

What happens when out-of-state gay couples take their Washington marriage license home?

"The issue is, is that recognized, in that other jurisdiction?" Dalton said. "Unfortunately, same-gender marriage (law) is inconsistent. It's dependent on that other jurisdiction."

That's why Washington's new law won't necessarily make a big difference for gay Idaho residents. Unless they're planning to become Washington residents.

If gay Idaho couples obtain a Washington marriage license, the marriage won't be recognized for tax purposes back in the Gem State, confirmed Liz Rodosovich, spokeswoman for the Idaho State Tax Commission.

"Idaho does not recognize gay marriage from another state," Rodosovich said. "The state constitution and state statute prohibit us from doing that."

Similarly, the Idaho Department of Insurance would consider a gay couple wed out of state as being in a domestic partnership, said agency spokeswoman Tricia Carney.

"Even though they're married in another state, if the policy is written in Idaho they're considered a domestic partnership," Carney said.

Neither the state nor any municipality in Idaho provides specific rights to domestic partners, according to Findlaw.com.

Other legal issues are a bit murkier, surrounding a gay marriage license in Idaho.

This much is clear - in 2006, state voters approved the Marriage Amendment for the state constitution, defining a man and woman as the only valid or recognized domestic legal union.

The amendment also banned legal recognition of any relationships that "approximate marriage," like domestic partnerships or civil unions.

Idaho statute Title 32-209 further states that all foreign or out-of-state same-sex marriages will not be recognized in the state.

Bob Cooper, spokesman for the Idaho Attorney General's Office, declined to interpret what other legal benefits gay couples wed in Washington may or may not be denied in Idaho.

"The state is bound by the constitution," Cooper said.

To discuss the matter further would be giving legal advice, he said, which the attorney general's office can't provide to non-state entities or individuals.

Staff at Kootenai Medical Center couldn't supply an answer of whether hospital visitation rights would be granted for a gay couple married in Washington.

That would require legal counsel, a spokesperson said.

Jack Miller, law professor at the University of Idaho, said that while Idaho does not recognize out-of-state gay marriages, that doesn't mean same-sex partners will necessarily be denied all the benefits of other married couples.

"You'd have to look at things on an item-by-item basis, in some cases," Miller said.

For instance, a state university might accord health benefits to an employee's same-sex partner, he said.

"That might be a recognition of that partnership in some respects, but it's not necessarily recognition of it as a marriage," Miller said.

This entire issue in Idaho could be settled for good in upcoming months, Miller added, when the U.S. Supreme Court makes a decision on whether states can ban gay marriage.

The court has recently agreed to review challenges to the federal Defense of Marriage Act and California's Proposition 8 ban on same-sex marriages.

Depending how the justices vote, Idaho could be required to recognize out-of-state gay marriages, Miller said. Idaho's marriage amendment could also be struck down.

"That decision could be construed to overrule that provision," Miller said.

Jon Downing, a gay Coeur d'Alene resident who holds seminars on LGBT awareness at North Idaho College, said he is thrilled to see voters uphold gay marriage in Washington.

"I'm happy to see all my friends in Washington getting married. It seems like a flurry of marriages going on," Downing said. "There's so many I can't attend them all."

He is confident Idaho gay couples will cross the border to marry, too, he said. He already knows a Kootenai County couple making plans.

Idaho might not recognize their license here, he said, but at least they will enjoy more rights in the neighboring state.

"If you were to get in an accident right across the state line, or chosen to be flown to Spokane instead of KMC, then you'd have visitation rights that's not allowed here in North Idaho," he pointed out.

While marriage isn't on Downing's own immediate agenda, he hopes the voter support in Washington will prompt Idaho citizens to give gay marriage another chance, he said.

"To show that much voter support is amazing," Downing said. "Hopefully it's giving that kind of awareness."

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