Otter: Defense of state's same-sex marriage ban could be costly

BOISE, Idaho (KBOI) -- Had a similar bill not been recently withdrawn in the Idaho legislature, Gov. Butch Otter could have found himself in the same position as Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer.

Brewer vetoed a bill Wednesday that would have allowed businesses to refuse service to gays, lesbians and others on religious grounds.

In an exclusive interview, I asked Gov. Otter about his reaction to Brewer's veto.

"That's her prerogative," The governor said. "I think she did the right thing."

But would Gov. Otter have done the same thing in her place -- if the now withdrawn religious freedom bill sponsored by Rep. Lynn Luker, (R) Boise, would have ended up on his desk?

"There are a lot of differences between Arizona and Idaho," Gov. Otter told me. "But I'm not going to comment because we've got other things in the works, in terms of lawsuits, about what I would or would not do."

Gov. Otter says he expects a lengthy legal fight over same-sex marriage around the country.

Idaho law recognizes only marriages between a man and a woman, and a 2006 voter-enacted constitutional amendment bans same-sex marriages.

Federal judges have voided all or part of voter-approved bans on same-sex marriage in Utah, Oklahoma and Kentucky. Appeals are pending.

Four couples in November filed a lawsuit challenging Idaho's same-sex marriage ban, arguing that the ban violates the U.S. Constitution's equal protection and due process guarantees.

Thursday, the Idaho Legislature's Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee (JFAC) approved the governor's request to add $1 million to the state's constitutional defense fund in anticipation of a legal challenge to Idaho's constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.

In the JFAC motion, the same-sex challenge was never specifically mentioned and Gov. Otter stopped short of saying the entire sum was to defend that singular challenge.

"We're prepared to defend our constitution on slick spot pepper grass, sage hen, and any other constitutional issue that comes before us," he said.

Including the ban on same sex marriage?

"Including the ban on same sex marriage."

Gov. Otter agreed it could be a costly legal struggle.

"It could be," he said. "But how much is our (state) constitution worth? I can't put a price on that."

In the back and forth battle over gay rights, Idaho is clearly on the front lines.