Andersen v. King County

Summary

In 2004, Lambda Legal and the Northwest Women’s Law Center filed a lawsuit in state court in Seattle seeking the right to marry for same-sex couples in Washington State. The case, Andersen v. King County (formerly Andersen v. Sims), on behalf of several couples, argued that denying marriage to same-sex couples violates the state constitution’s guarantees of equality, liberty and privacy. A lower court ruled in favor of full marriage equality for our plaintiffs — giving us the first trial court decision in the country to declare that excluding same-sex couples from marriage “is not rationally related to any legitimate or compelling state interest.” The case made its way directly to the Washington state supreme court, and in July 2006, the court issued a 5–4 ruling against marriage for same-sex couples. Lambda Legal and the Northwest Women’s Law Center petitioned the court to reconsider its decision but the petition ultimately was denied.

Context

In 1998 Washington State adopted a so-called Defense of Marriage Act, confining marriage to a man and a woman. The state supreme court ruled that the DOMA does not violate the state constitution. Dissenting judges in our marriage case strongly condemned the state’s DOMA.

Lambda Legal's Impact

Though we ultimately did not prevail in court, our marriage case helped show the people of Washington the daily struggles, persistent vulnerabilities and sometimes wrenching tragedies same-sex couples face because they cannot marry. This helped lay the groundwork for future legislative initiatives to address the inequality same-sex couples encounter.

History

  • March 2004 Lambda Legal and Northwest Women’s Law Center file lawsuit in state court in Seattle seeking the equal right to marry for same-sex couples in Washington State.
  • August 2004 Superior Court for King County finds that Washington State Constitution guarantees basic rights to lesbian and gay people, and that a state law prohibiting same-sex couples from marrying violates these core constitutional protections.
  • September 2004 State court ruling appealed by the county and state. Washington Supreme Court agrees to hear case directly.
  • September 2004 High court also agrees to hear Castle v. State of Washington, a marriage case filed in Thurston County, after Andersen, by ACLU of Washington. The case had also been decided successfully in the trial court.
  • March 2005 Lambda Legal, Northwest Women’s Law Center and ACLU of Washington present oral arguments before the Washington State Supreme Court.
  • July 2006 Washington Supreme Court issues 5–4 ruling against marriage for same-sex couples.
  • August 2006 Lambda Legal, Northwest Women’s Law Center and ACLU of Washington petition the Washington Supreme Court to reconsider its decision.
  • October 2006 Washington Supreme Court refuses to reconsider the case.

Case Information

Plaintiffs

David and Michael Serkin-Poole, Heather Andersen and Leslie Christian, Janet Helson and Betty Lundquist, Johanna Bender and Sherri Kokx, Michelle (“Monst*r”) Esguerra and Boo Torres de Esguerra, Vegavahini Subramaniam and Vaijayanthimala (Mala) Nagarajan

Attorneys

Lambda Legal
Jennifer C. Pizer

Co-counsel/Cooperating Attorneys
Patricia Novotny, Lisa Stone and Nancy Sapiro of the Northwest Women’s Law Center; Jamie Pedersen, former member of Lambda Legal’s Board of Directors and an attorney at the Seattle law firm, Preston Gates & Ellis; Bradley Bagshaw and Jennifer Divine, of the Seattle law firm Helsell Fetterman LLP