Washington State Supreme Court Rules Against Marriage for Same-Sex Couples
(Seattle, July 26, 2006) — The Washington State Supreme Court issued a 5–4 ruling against couples represented by Lambda Legal and the Northwest Women’s Law Center in a case seeking marriage for same-sex couples.
Two cases were decided today — Andersen v. King County in which the eight couples are represented by Lambda Legal and the Northwest Women's Law Center and Castle v. State whose 11 couples are represented by the ACLU of Washington.
In her strongly worded dissent, Justice Bobbe J. Bridge wrote: “The plaintiffs in this case represent the ever-growing diversity of the openly gay community in Washington. They are teachers, attorneys, ministers, and foster parents. In their everyday lives they are bosses, coworkers, neighbors, clients, parents, friends, and volunteers. It is in these seemingly mundane, everyday roles that the discrimination imposed by the DOMA is deeply felt, but it is nowhere more wounding than in their very homes. Unless the concept of equal rights has meaning there, it has little meaning anywhere.”
“We are disappointed but not discouraged—this is a civil rights movement and time is on our side,” said Jennifer C. Pizer, Senior Counsel at Lambda Legal and the lead attorney on the case for Lambda Legal. “In the struggle between fairness and discrimination—fairness has won consistently in America. History has shown that in cases of this magnitude the opinions of the dissenting justices later become the law of the land.”
In August 2004, King County Superior Court Judge William Downing ruled that the Washington State Constitution guarantees basic rights to lesbian and gay people—and that those rights are violated by a state law prohibiting same-sex couples from marrying. The ruling said the state Constitution requires same-sex couples to have equal access to marriage, and that the couples represented by Lambda Legal and the Northwest Women’s Law Center must be given marriage licenses. One month later, a court in Thurston County ruled similarly in the Castle case. Both decisions were appealed to the Washington State Supreme Court.
“While this was certainly not the result we were looking for it must be put into perspective. In 1948, when the California Supreme Court became the first state Supreme Court in the nation to strike down laws banning interracial marriages (which were on the books in 30 states at the time), lawsuits challenging such laws in 14 states had been unsuccessful (in Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Indiana, Missouri, Montana, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia). Despite those setbacks, people whose rights were trampled did not give up. They pressed on to change public opinion, to secure legislative repeal of those laws to win in California and ultimately, 19 years later, to win before the U.S. Supreme Court,” Pizer said.
Lambda Legal and the Northwest Women’s Law Center filed the Washington marriage lawsuit in March 2004 on behalf of same-sex couples who were denied marriage licenses in King County. The groups argued that denying marriage to same-sex couples violates the state constitution’s guarantees of equality, liberty and privacy for all Washingtonians.
According to the most recent U.S. Census, Washington is home to nearly 16,000 same-sex couples, roughly one quarter of whom are raising children. They reside in every county of the state, work in every sector of the state’s economy and represent the full racial and ethnic diversity of Washington.
Earlier this month, on July 10, oral argument was heard in the intermediate appellate court in California for Lambda Legal’s lawsuit (with lead-counsel National Center for Lesbian Rights and cocounsel ACLU) seeking marriage for same-sex couples in that state. (The trial court in California ruled in April 2005 that denying marriage to same-sex couples violates California’s constitution.) On July 6, New York’s highest court ruled that excluding same-sex couples from marriage does not violate that state’s constitution. Lambda Legal is awaiting a decision from the New Jersey Supreme Court in its marriage equality lawsuit there, and Lambda Legal’s lawsuit seeking marriage for same-sex couples in Iowa is at the trial court level.
In May 2004, Massachusetts became the first state in the nation to open marriage to same-sex couples. A Boston Globe poll taken in March 2005 found that 56% of people in Massachusetts now favor marriage for same-sex couples. This percentage is nearly a mirror image of the 53% of people in the Bay State who had opposed such marriages just a year earlier in February 2004, before couples of the same sex could legally wed there. Spain, Canada, Belgium and the Netherlands stopped denying marriage to same-sex couples nationwide, with South Africa scheduled to follow by the end of 2006.
Jennifer C. Pizer and Jamie Pedersen, former member of Lambda Legal’s Board of Directors and an attorney at the Seattle law firm, Preston Gates & Ellis, are Lambda Legal’s lead attorneys on the case, Andersen, et. al. v. King County, et. Al. Cocounsel include Patricia Novotny, Lisa Stone and Nancy Sapiro of the Northwest Women’s Law Center, and Bradley Bagshaw and Jennifer Divine, of the Seattle law firm Helsell Fetterman LLP.
Mark Roy: 212-809-8585 ext. 267
Lisa Hardaway: 212-809-8585 ext. 266
Lambda Legal is a national organization committed to achieving full recognition of the civil rights of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgender people and those with HIV through impact litigation, education, and public policy work.