King County judge rules in favor of same-sex marriage
Wednesday, August 04, 2004 - Page updated at 12:04 P.M.

By Sanjay Bhatt
Seattle Times staff reporter

Same-sex marriage is legal in Washington state, King County Superior Court Judge William Downing ruled today.

But, as expected, the decision is stayed and no local marriage licenses can be issued until the state Supreme Court reviews the case.

In his ruling, Downing said the state's Defense of Marriage Act, which limits marriage to one man and one woman, is unconstitutional.

Reaction to the judge's ruling was swift.

"It's a breathtaking leap is what it is," said Joseph Fuiten, 54, president of the Bothell-based Washington Evangelicals for Responsible Government, which intervened in the case on the state's side. "For the judge and the judicial branch to discover a right which has never existed in human history, has no precedent in American law or jurisprudence ... is to go out into unknown territory with unknown social consequences."

Fuiten said his group would appeal the decision.

Lambda Legal senior staff attorney Jennifer Pizer praised the ruling.

"It is important that Judge Downing was systematic and thorough and agrees that these Washington citizens are entitled to full and equal treatment under the Constitution," she said. "His opinion laying out that analysis will make a big difference in the way the case is understood on appeal."

Citing the rationale of state Supreme Courts in Massachusetts and Vermont, Downing wrote, "The Court concludes that the exclusion of same-sex partners from civil marriage and the privileges attendant thereto is not rationally related to any legitimate or compelling state interest and is certainly not narrowly tailored toward such an interest."

Downing characterized the reasons for banning same-sex marriage and then refuted them as follows:

"Morality requires it." Downing countered: "... Americans have differing views as to what morality requires in the definition of marriage. It is not for our secular government to choose between religions and take moral or religious sides in such a debate.

"Tradition compels it." Downing cited the Massachusetts Supreme Court's opinion that "it is circular reasoning, not analysis, to maintain that marriage must remain a heterosexual institution because that is what it historically has been."

"The institution of marriage is threatened." The judge said threats to marriage notably a shortage of commitment and an excess of selfishness come from inside the institution, not outside it.

"Before the Court stand eight couples who credibly represent that they are ready and willing to make the kind of commitment to partner and family for all the right kinds of reasons. All they ask is for the state to make them able," he wrote.

The suit against Washington state's law was filed by Lambda Legal and the Northwest Women's Law Center on behalf of eight same-sex couples denied marriage licenses in King County. The case was the first of its kind to be filed in Washington since Massachusett's high court ruled in favor of same-sex couples marriage, and its outcome will have legal and political impact beyond this state.

Gay couples have been able to wed in Massachusetts since May.

The King County suit contends that this state's law, passed by the Legislature in 1998, violates the state and federal constitutions' guarantees of equality for all citizens.

In oral arguments July 27, attorneys for the plaintiffs said same-sex couples need the legal protections that only marriage can provide.

Lawyers for King County, and the state defended the DOMA law. They were joined by Washington Evangelicals for Responsible Government and the Coalition for Community Development and Renewal, an organization of inner-city pastors.

With no history or tradition of same-sex marriage in Washington, there is no fundamental right to marriage, the defendants said.

The defendants also pointed to a 1974 case, Singer v. Hara, in which the State Court of Appeals ruled that the state's Equal Rights Amendment did not apply to two gay men who sought to marry.

A second lawsuit, this one against the state, was filed in April by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of 11 same-sex couples. Eventually both cases will go to the state Supreme Court.

Copyright 2004 The Seattle Times Company