Washington Supreme Court Fails to Uphold Marriage Equality

Affiliate: ACLU of Washington
July 26, 2006 12:00 am

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OLYMPIA, WA -- Reversing rulings in favor of marriage equality by two state courts, the Washington Supreme Court today found that the state’s ban on marriage by same-sex couples does not violate the state constitution. In the appeal of cases brought by 19 couples who wish to marry, the Court upheld the state’s Defense of Marriage Act of 1998 that defines marriage as between one man and one woman.

Two cases were decided today – couples in the Castle v. State case are represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington and couples in the Andersen v. Sims case are represented by the Northwest Women's Law Center and Lambda Legal. Oral argument in the case was heard in March 2005.

“We are disappointed that the court did not recognize its vital role of ensuring fundamental equality for all,” said Kathleen Taylor, Executive Director of the ACLU of Washington. “Same-sex couples fall in love, make commitments, and raise children. They need the many protections for their families that marriage provides. Marriage equality strengthens our communities.”

“Today’s ruling is not the end of the story. History teaches us that achieving social justice is a long-term effort. The ACLU will continue to work in the legislature and the courts to gain full equality for lesbian and gay couples,” added Taylor.

The ACLU brought its suit on behalf of 11 same-sex couples living in Washington who wish to marry or to have their marriage recognized under Washington laws. Plaintiffs include a police officer, a firefighter, a banker, a nurse, a retired judge, a college professor, a business executive and others. They reside in communities from Seattle to Spokane and from Port Townsend to Hoquiam.

Current state laws provide hundreds of benefits to married couples that are not available to same-sex couples. Among these are community property rights; access to family court; access during health care emergencies and the ability to participate in health care decisions; and survivor benefits.

"The right to marry involves equal rights for all loving, committed spouses,” said Curtis Crawford, a plaintiff represented by the ACLU of Washington. “My longtime partner has a rare form of cancer and sometimes has gone to the hospital. I had hoped to obtain the legal protections of marriage to speak and act on behalf of my partner when he needs me most."

The decision came in the state’s appeal of two lower-court rulings upholding marriage equality. In Castle v. State which was decided in September 2004, Thurston County Superior Court Judge Richard Hicks found that legal barriers to marriage for same-sex couples violate the state constitution’s guarantee of equal treatment for all citizens. In his ruling, Judge Hicks 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 Anderson v. King County, which was decided in April 2004, King County Superior Court Judge William Downing also ruled that Washington’s law limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples violates the state constitution.

Today’s ruling came with a 5-4 margin. In her dissent, Justice Bobbe Bridge wrote, “Rather than protecting children, the DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act) harms them.” In another dissent, Justice Mary Fairhurst said that the plurality and concurring options "... condone blatant discrimination against Washington's gay and lesbian citizens in the name of encouraging procreation, marriage for individuals in relationships that result in children, and the raising of children in homes headed by opposite-sex parents, while ignoring the fact that denying same-sex couples the right to marry has no prospect of furthering any of those interests."

Representing the 11 couples for the ACLU 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.

The couples represented by the ACLU include:

  • Brenda Bauer and Celia Castle of Seattle: Brenda is an attorney and Director of the Fleets and Facilities Department for the City of Seattle. Celia has been a firefighter for more than 25 years. They have been together 18 years. They are parents of two girls ages 11 and 13. Although they were married in Portland, Oregon on March 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.

  • Jeff Kingsbury and Alan Fuller of Olympia: Jeff has been Artistic Director for the Capital Playhouse for 20 years and serves as a member of the Olympia City Council. 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 14 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 15 years. They are parents of a 10-year-old boy and a six-year-old girl. They were married in Portland in March 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.

  • Marge Ballack and Diane Lantz of Spokane: Marge and Diane have shared their lives together for more than 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.

  • 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 United States as a refugee and now owns a hiking and outdoor equipment store. The couple has been together seven 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.

  • 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 more than 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 of Pierce County: Karrie is a consultant and Kathy is currently unemployed. The Cunninghams have been together for 13 years and have raised Kathy’s 21-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.

  • Kevin Chestnut and Curtis Crawford of Seattle: Kevin is an executive for a software company and Curtis is a photographer. They have been together for 20 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 been diagnosed with cancer, which made the couple even more aware of the impact of legal inequalities.

  • 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 35 years. When Pamela was 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 25 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 more than five years and have a one-month-old baby girl. 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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