Same-Sex Couples Must Be Treated Equally and Allowed To Marry, Co-Counsel Lambda Legal Tells Washington State Supreme Court

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Brief in historic case says state Constitution mandates equality under the law; state Supreme Court will hear oral argument in the case on March 8, 2005
November 24, 2004

 (Seattle, November 24, 2004) — Same-sex couples must be allowed to marry in Washington State, according to a brief filed by Lambda Legal and the Northwest Women’s Law Center at the state Supreme Court today. The brief asks the state’s high court to uphold a ruling earlier this year that said the state’s prohibition on same-sex couples marrying is a violation of the Washington Constitution.

“Our clients pay all the same taxes as their neighbors and coworkers, and they deserve all the same legal protections. As long as gay couples cannot marry, they are not being treated equally under the law,” said Jennifer C. Pizer, Senior Counsel in Lambda Legal’s Western Regional Office and one of the lead attorneys in the case at the state Supreme Court. “We believe that the Washington Supreme Court will look closely at the important issues this case raises and come to the same conclusion the lower court reached.”

In a historic ruling on August 4, King County Superior Court Judge William Downing said that the 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. Both decisions were expedited to the Washington State Supreme Court, which will hear arguments in both cases on March 8.

In August’s ruling, Judge Downing called the eight couples represented by Lambda Legal and the Northwest Women’s Law Center “law-abiding, taxpaying model citizens,” and said, “There is no worthwhile institution that they would dishonor, much less destroy.” In the ruling, Downing also said, “The characteristics embodied by these plaintiffs are ones that our society and the institution of marriage need more of, not less. Let the plaintiffs stand as inspirations for all those citizens, homosexual and heterosexual, who may follow their path.”

Pizer played a key role in two major legal victories for same-sex couples at the Washington Supreme Court in 2001 and said the court has a track record of treating same-sex couples equally under the law. “In recent years, we’ve seen that Washington courts are very serious about their duty to carefully consider cases and give everyone a fair hearing. Our clients are asking for full marriage -- nothing more, nothing less – and we’re looking forward to presenting a compelling case at the Washington Supreme Court,” Pizer said.

Lambda Legal and the Northwest Women’s Law Center filed the lawsuit in March on behalf of same-sex couples who were denied marriage licenses in King County, arguing that denying marriage to same-sex couples violates the state Constitution’s guarantees of equality, liberty and privacy for all Washingtonians. The case was the first of its kind to be filed in Washington since the Massachusetts high court ruled that same-sex couples are entitled to full marriage under that state’s Constitution.

In addition to its case in Washington, Lambda Legal is also currently litigating marriage cases in New Jersey, New York, and California. (Lambda Legal is working on the California case with the ACLU, National Center for Lesbian Rights and Equality California.)

Pizer and Jamie Pedersen, Co-Chair 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. Sims, et. al. Co-counsel 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.



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