Judge Rules for Marriage Equality for Same-Sex Couples in Washington

Affiliate: ACLU of Washington
September 7, 2004 12:00 am

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OLYMPIA, WA — In the American Civil Liberties Union’s lawsuit for marriage equality, Thurston County Superior Court Judge Richard Hicks ruled today that the state’s laws that bar same-sex couples from marriage violate the state constitution’s guarantee of equal protection for all citizens. The government cannot give the legal benefits of marriage to one group of adult citizens but not to another.

The ruling comes in a lawsuit filed by the ACLU in Thurston County Superior Court in April on behalf of 11 couples from across the state who wish to marry in Washington or to have their marriage recognized under Washington law. Plaintiffs include a police officer, a firefighter, a banker, a nurse, a retired judge, a college professor, a business executive, and others. They reside from Seattle to Spokane and from Port Townsend to Hoquiam.

“This is an important victory for fairness and equality. The judge ruled that government must treat same-sex couples the same as other couples. Two consenting adults who wish to enter into the commitment of marriage cannot be denied its benefits simply because they are of the same gender,” said Kathleen Taylor, Executive Director of the ACLU of Washington.

Current law deprives same-sex couples of numerous rights available as a direct benefit of the marriage contract. Among these are community property rights; access to family court; joint assessment of income and needs for determination of state assistance programs; access during health care emergencies and the ability to participate in health care decisions; survivor benefits; and authority to make decisions regarding funeral arrangements.

The court rebuffed arguments that same-sex marriage destabilizes the family, noting that same sex couples have already been found to serve as capable foster and adoptive parents. In his ruling, Judge Hicks pointed out that granting marriage equality to same-sex couples strengthens our community, saying, “Our fundamental principle is that we share the freedom to live with and respect each other and share the same privileges or immunities. We need each other.”

Judge Hicks concluded that, “Democracy means people with different values living together as one people. What can reconcile our differences is the feeling that with these differences we are still one people. This is the democracy of conscience.”

Working for the ACLU on the case are Paul Lawrence, Matthew Segal, and Amit Ranade of the law firm Preston Gates & Ellis; Karolyn Hicks of the firm Stokes Lawrence, Roger Leishman of the firm Davis Wright Tremaine; and ACLU of Washington staff attorney Aaron Caplan.

In April 2004, King County Superior Court Judge William Downing (in Anderson v. King County) ruled that Washington’s laws limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples violate the state constitution. In that case, eight same-sex couples represented by the Northwest Women’s Law Center and Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund sued King County for refusing to give them marriage licenses. Both rulings are expected to be heard by the Washington Supreme Court, most likely on the same day.

The ACLU has long worked to secure equal treatment under the law for all citizens. In 1971, the ACLU of Washington represented John Singer and Paul Barwick when they sought to obtain a marriage license in Washington. Unfortunately, the state court of appeals sided with the state, ruling that marriage is the “appropriate and desirable forum for procreation and the rearing of children” and therefore not applicable to gays and lesbians. Judge Hicks, however, said that “the community, and its values, has substantially changed from the times of Singer” and that the Singer case “cries out for reexamination….”

The couples represented by the ACLU include:

  • Brenda Bauer and Celia Castle of Seattle: Brenda is an attorney and Director of Contracting Services for the City of Seattle. Celia has been a firefighter for 25 years. They have been together 16 years. They are parents of two girls ages 8 and 11. Although they were married in Portland, Oregon on March 16, 2004, Brenda would not be treated as Celia’s survivor under Washington law if Celia were to die in the line of duty as a firefighter. Celia and Brenda want Washington to recognize that they are married. In the alternative, Celia and Brenda want to be married in Washington.
  • Jeff Kingsbury and Alan Fuller of Olympia: Jeff has been Artistic Director for the Capital Playhouse for 18 years. He works extensively with youth and their families and is active in the downtown business community. Alan is a mortgage lender for the Washington State Employees Credit Union. The couple has been together for 12 years. Alan has observed how the inability to get married has affected them and others in housing opportunities.
  • Judy Fleissner and Chris Gamache of Seattle: Judy is a police officer. Chris is an attorney. The couple has been together for 14 years. They are parents of a seven-year-old boy and a four-year-old girl. They were married in Portland on March 19, 2004. Judy was not able to use family leave like other officers when their daughter was born, and Chris would not be considered her spouse if Judy were to die in the line of duty. Judy and Chris want Washington to recognize that they are married. In the alternative, Judy and Chris want to be married in Washington.
  • Marge Ballack and Diane Lantz of Spokane: Marge and Diane have shared their lives together for 25 years. Marge is a kitchen designer, and Diane works at a publishing company. They were married in British Columbia, Canada on July 21, 2003. Marge and Diane are treated as married by their children and grandchildren, but not by their government. Marge and Diane want Washington to recognize that they are married
  • Tom Duke and Phuoc Lam of Port Townsend: Tom is a clinical psychologist and served in the Navy as an interpreter in Vietnam. A native of Saigon, Phuoc arrived in the U.S. as a refugee and now owns a hiking and outdoor equipment store. The couple has been together six years. Tom and Phuoc love each other, and believe that the State should not limit marriage on the basis of race, gender, or sexual orientation. Tom and Phuoc want to be married in Washington.
  • Gary Murrell and Michael Gyde of Hoquiam: Gary is a writer and History professor at Grays Harbor College. Michael is an antiques dealer. The couple has been together for 25 years. Gary and Michael want to marry in order to ensure that they will be able to take care of each other and that they will be adequately protected as they get older.
  • Karrie Cunningham and Kathy Cunningham of Graham in Pierce County: Karrie is a consultant. Kathy is currently unemployed. The Cunninghams have been together 11 years and have raised Karrie’s 18-year-old son together. In February 2004, Kathy and Karrie were married in San Francisco. The Cunninghams want Washington to recognize that they are married. In the alternative, Kathy and Karrie want to be married in Washington.
  • Kevin Chestnut and Curtis Crawford of Seattle: Kevin is an executive for a software company. Curtis is a photographer. They have been together 19 years. They were married in British Columbia in October 2003. When Kevin’s appendix burst a few years ago, the hospital would not let Curtis make emergency health care decisions for him without obtaining verification from Kevin’s mother on the east coast. Kevin has recently been diagnosed with cancer, which made the couple even more aware of the impact of legal inequalities. Kevin and Curtis want Washington to recognize that they are married.
  • Pamela Coffey and Valerie Tibbett of Friday Harbor: Pamela is a photographer. Valerie is a retired administrative law judge. They have been in a committed, loving relationship for 31 years. When Pamela was recently airlifted to a hospital on the mainland, she and Valerie faced anxiety and uncertainty because they did not have copies of documents confirming their relationship. Pamela and Valerie want to be married in Washington.
  • Allan Henderson and John Berquist of Seattle: Allan is an international consultant in the areas of hunger, health, and third world development. John is a nurse. They have been a couple for 23 years. Over the years, Allan and John have taken advantage of legal tools like wills, power of attorneys, and private domestic partner benefits. But they have seen the limitations of private contracts. Marriage for them is about the importance of recognizing that they are a family.
  • Lauri Conner and Leja Wright of Seattle: Lauri Conner is a high school English teacher at Seattle Academy for Arts and Sciences. Leja is a medical assistant at the Country Doctor Clinic. The interracial couple has been together for three-and-a-half years. They hope to have children together soon. As part of educating high school seniors, Conner teaches about divisions that exist on the basis of race and sex. She sees the current Washington law’s refusal to respect their relationship in the context of other historic examples of discrimination.

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