Gay marriage legal in Wash. state, judge rules

SEATTLE Gay couples can marry under Washington state law, because barring them from doing so is a violation of their constitutional rights, a judge ruled Wednesday.

“The denial to the plaintiffs of the right to marry constitutes a denial of substantive due process,” King County Superior Court Judge William L. Downing said in his ruling.

His decision is stayed until the state Supreme Court reviews the case, meaning no marriage licenses can be issued until then, said Jennifer Pizer, lead counsel in the case for Lambda Legal Defense.

“Judge Downing saw the couples in the courtroom and hes recognized that they are full and equal citizens of Washington. No more and no less,” Pizer said.

The gay couples challenged Washingtons Defense of Marriage Act, which restricts marriage to one man and one woman.

Arguing for the couples, attorney Bradley Bagshaw told Downing at a hearing last month that the act violates the state constitution by depriving same-sex couples of the same privileges and immunities as other residents, and by depriving them of life, liberty or property without due process of law.

Six couples filed the lawsuit in March after King County refused to grant them marriage licenses, and two other couples later joined the suit.

A second lawsuit was filed in April by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of 11 same-sex couples.

In his ruling, Downing criticized arguments that a ban on same-sex marriage would protect children from harms that may be caused by being raised in a nontraditional family.

“Although many may hold strong opinions on the subject, the fact is that there are no scientifically valid studies tending to establish a negative impact on the adjustment of children raised by an intact same-sex couple as compared with those raised by an intact opposite-sex couple,” Downing wrote.

He concluded that, “The exclusion of same-sex partners from civil marriage and the privileges attendant thereto is not rationally related to any legitimate or compelling state interest and is certainly not narrowly tailored toward such an interest.”

Critics of same-sex marriage decried the ruling.

State Sen. Val Stevens, R-Arlington, an author of the 1998 Defense of Marriage Act and a defendant in the case, said she “was disappointed that we even have to be here discussing this simple, well-precedented matter that the people previously defined as the union between a man and a woman.”

Stevens argued that the state law is constitutional. “Our Founding Fathers would absolutely have abhorred such a decision. We know they would never endorse allowing two homosexuals getting married.”

Stevens argued strongly that the established tradition of marriage must be preserved in order to teach children the “proper role models for relationships” and to further procreation. “When we say marriage can be between two sisters, two brothers or a brother and a sister, we dilute the purpose and the intent,” she said.

In 1998, the Legislature passed the Defense of Marriage Act after it overrode a veto by Gov. Gary Locke.

“We were quite surprised, especially when the judge said he didnt find any prohibition on same-sex marriage in the state constitution,” said Rick Forcier, head of the Christian Coalition in Washington state. “But neither would he find a prohibition of pedophilia in the constitution. So its pretty shaky ground for him to make a ruling based on what he didnt find.”

King County Executive Ron Sims, a defendant in the lawsuit, said the ruling was a powerful affirmation of equal rights.

“I always believed that if the court of law addressed this that the court would conclude that the prohibition against gays and lesbians from being married would be found unconstitutional,” Sims told The Associated Press. “I think marriage is an incredibly wonderful institution and that people who love each other should be allowed to be involved in it.”

When first urged to issue marriage licenses to gay couples, Sims said he wouldnt do it because the licenses wouldnt have any legal meaning in a state that didnt recognize them.

He said hes glad the couples sued.

“I believe that our society will be stronger when we recognize the fullness of everyones rights,” Sims said. “Thats the magic of America.”

Washington is one of 38 states with laws defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman. Under a state high court ruling, Massachusetts has allowed gay marriage since May.

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