Gay marriage among Idaho's top 2014 news

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BOISE, Idaho (AP) — For some, the wait had lasted decades. Others thought they would never see the day that in conservative Idaho —one of the most Republican-dominated states in the nation— same-sex marriage would be legalized.

But after a complicated legal battle, Idaho's gay marriage ban was overturned in federal court and gay couples began legally receiving marriage licenses on Oct. 15.

In 2013, four lesbian couples sued to overturn the state's ban on gay marriage. Idaho voters passed a constitutional amendment in 2006 banning not only gay marriage but also civil unions and any other form of state recognition of relationships other than those between a man and a woman.

Two couples in the lawsuit were legally married in other states: Sue Latta and Traci Ehlers, married in 2008 in California, and Lori and Sharene Watsen, married in 2011 in New York. The two other couples, Shelia Robertson and Andrea Altmayer and Rachael and Amber Beierle, were first in line on Oct. 15 to receive a marriage license at the Ada County Courthouse in Boise. It was the same location they were turned away nearly one year before.

"People see us for us first. They don't go 'Oh, that gay couple.' They say, 'Oh, it's Sheila and Andrea,'" Robertson told The Associated Press. "Really, we're just normal people. We pay our taxes, we go to work. Today we got married."

The day was filled with celebration as hundreds of gay couples across the state received a marriage license. However, Idaho officials have promised that the fight is not over.

In November, Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter devoted the majority of his victory speech after shortly winning a third term as governor vowing that even if every other state conceded, he would continue resisting the legalization of gay marriage.

Otter's legal team have since filed arguments to the U.S. Supreme Court petitioning that the justices should also receive Idaho's case before deciding a case involving gay marriage out of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The state also has a petition pending at the 9th Circuit asking for reconsideration. Unless that petition is granted soon, Otter and Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden will file a petition on Jan. 5 to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Here are some of the other stories that defined Idaho in 2014:

—BOWE BERGDAHL RELEASED: It was a short lived celebration when news hit that the only American soldier held prisoner in Afghanistan was freed by the Taliban in exchange for the release of five Afghan detainees back in May. Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl's hometown handed out yellow ribbons and quickly amended an annual event called "Bring Bowe Back" to "Bowe is Back." However, questions about the soldier, the deal that brought him back, and the costs of prior attempts quickly dampened the joy of Bergdahl's return. The hometown rally was cancelled as criticism increased over reports that Bergdahl deliberately walked away from his unit in 2009 and was then captured by the Taliban. A top U.S. general is now reviewing Bergdahl's case and will decide if the soldier should be charged with desertion.

—PRISON TAKEOVER: Idaho's experiment with privatizing the state's prisons came to an end following a scandal over falsified employee timesheets at Idaho's only privately run prison coupled with a reputation that the facility was so violent that inmates dubbed it "Gladiator School." In early January, Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter announced that the state would operate the Idaho Correction Center, just south of Boise, once its contract with Corrections of Corporation of America ended June 30. Idaho taxpayers had spent $29 million a year for CCA to operate the prison. The FBI is currently investigating.

—WATER RIGHTS COURT FINISHES: This year marked the end of a 30-year process negotiating water rights throughout nearly 85 percent of the Gem State. The process was critical in determining how much water Idaho has left for future use. However, it was also a historical event because it was the largest ever adjudication review settling water ownership in the United States.

—DAIRY SPYING: Idaho's $2.5 billion annual dairy industry threw its support passing a new law criminalizing surreptitious recording at agriculture facilities. The hotly-contested law came after videos showing cows being abused at a southern Idaho dairy were released in 2012. The Los Angeles-based animal rights group Mercy for Animals released the videos that showed workers at Bettencourt Dairy —one of the state's largest dairies— beating and dragging cows. After unsuccessfully voicing their opposition to lawmakers, a coalition of animal rights, civil liberties and environmental groups sued the state to overturn the so-called "ag-gag" law. A federal judge is reviewing the case.

—GUNS ON CAMPUS: Despite facing opposition from every university college president, lawmakers passed legislation allowing concealed weapons on Idaho's public college and university campuses. The law prohibits gun holders, however, from bringing their weapons into dormitories or buildings that hold more than 1,000 people, such as stadiums or concert halls. While the new law has received little attention since its implementation, school officials are expected to fight for more funding to cover their security costs during the 2015 legislative session.

—OTTER WINS A THIRD TERM: Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter, 72, became the second governor in Idaho history elected to a third consecutive four-year term. The victory wasn't without a few close calls. During the May GOP primary election, Otter lost in the state's top three most-populated counties to former state Sen. Russ Fulcher. He then went head to head with Democrat and political newcomer A.J. Balukoff, who spent millions of his money to compete against Otter's cowboy charm. If Otter completes the full term, he'll also become Idaho's oldest serving governor.

—GOP CHAOS: Division within Idaho Republicans resulted in a meltdown during this year's GOP convention. Delegates spent hours using parliamentary procedures against each other to gain control. Establishment Republicans were pitted against far-right conservatives who felt they were being ignored by those controlling the state's supermajority political party. The failed convention didn't result in a Democratic surge on Election Day, but political analysts say it damaged efforts to attract younger voters and volunteers.

—DOG SHOT BY COP: A small town police officer sparked national outrage after shooting and killing a dog named "Hooch" during a 9-year-old's birthday party. Video footage from Officer Tarek Hassani's dashboard camera showed Hassani kicking the barking black Labrador before shooting it. The officer was placed on administrative leave and the City of Filer agreed to pay the dog owner $35,000 as part a negotiated settlement, but the incident led many to advocate for more resources and training for officers on how to deal with animals in the line of duty.

—HARLEY BROWN DEBATES: What happens when a cowboy, a curmudgeon, a biker and a normal guy participate in a Republican primary debate? It goes viral. Fringe candidates Harley Brown and Walt Bayes stole the show after Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter insisted they participate on the debate panel. Bayes spent most of his time criticizing the federal government as a bunch of "Eastern idiots" and boasting that he shot a wolf while the species was still classified as endangered. Meanwhile, Brown said God had called him to be commander in chief, saying that "don't think I'm crazy, because I'm not." Republican candidate Russ Fulcher later claimed it was a stunt by Otter's campaign to avoid answering tough questions.

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